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One thousand and nineteen patients with acute varicella zoster viral infection were referred to the physiotherapy department for treatment between 1978 and 1986. Sixty per cent were women and 40% were men with a mean age of 58 years (range 9-96 years). The prevalence varied between 1.3 and 1.6 per 1000 per annum. The left side was affected in 52% while the right was affected in 48%. The thoracic dermatomes were the most commonly affected (56%) followed by cervical (17%), lumbar (10%), sacral (5%), and the trigeminal nerve was infected in 12%. There was a significant seasonal (P less than 0.001) variation in the prevalence of acute varicella zoster virus infection, most common in the summer and least common in the spring. There was no clustering in time and space so that it is unlikely that the varicella zoster virus is infective or that re-exposure to the virus causes reactivation of the latent virus.