Shingles sends nearly 1 million Americans to their doctors every year seeking relief from the painful symptoms the virus causes, according to U.S. government statistics released on Wednesday.
The average cost for treating shingles is $525 per person or $566 million each year in 2005 dollars, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reported.
Shingles is caused by varicella-zoster virus, which also causes chicken pox. It is a herpes virus that can linger in the body for decades, becoming reactivated when the immune system is suppressed.
Symptoms include burning or shooting pain, tingling or itching and sometimes, but not always, a characteristic rash or blisters.
Older people can become newly infected with the virus. People age 65 and older are seven times more likely to get shingles than younger people, with about 1.5 percent of the elderly reporting the condition, the agency said.
Agency researchers Anita Soni and Steven Hill used several national surveys to compile their report. They found that 1.1 million people came down with shingles every year and that 900,000 seek treatment for it.
A vaccine can prevent shingles, and treatments include antiviral and pain medications.