Varicella-zoster virus causes chickenpox (CP) and after reactivation herpes zoster (HZ). Vaccines are available against both diseases warranting an assessment of the pre-vaccination burden of disease. We collected data from relevant Belgian databases and performed five surveys of CP and HZ patients. The rates at which a general practitioner is visited at least once for CP and HZ are 346 and 378/100 000 person-years, respectively. The average CP and HZ hospitalization rates are 5·3 and 14·2/100 000 person-years respectively. The direct medical cost for HZ is about twice as large as the direct medical cost for CP. The quality-adjusted life years lost for ambulatory CP patients consulting a physician is more than double that of those not consulting a physician (0·010 vs. 0·004). In conclusion, both diseases cause a substantial burden in Belgium.