Shingles are caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. Shingles are contagious but less so than the chickenpox. If you haven’t had chickenpox or you have a compromised immune system, it’s possible to contract the varicella-zoster virus through contact with unscabbed shingles blisters. Once the blisters scab, they’re no longer contagious.
Initial infection by the varicella-zoster virus leads to chickenpox. Once you’ve had chickenpox, varicella-zoster virus stays in your body in an inactive state in your nerve tissue for the rest of your life.
If the virus activates again, you get shingles. You can only get shingles if you’ve had chickenpox.
Shingles can only spread to someone who has never had chickenpox. In this case, someone with shingles can pass the varicella-zoster virus to you because you don’t already have it in your body, leading to chickenpox as the initial infection. Shingles is typically less contagious than chickenpox.
If you haven’t had chickenpox or you have a compromised immune system, you can get the varicella-zoster virus from contact with someone else’s fresh and oozing shingles blisters. If you haven’t had chickenpox and you touch the blister fluids, you can get chickenpox but not shingles.
The virus doesn’t spread after the blisters have broken open and formed crusty scabs, or when the blisters are well-covered.
You can’t get shingles through contact with saliva or nasal secretions of an infected individual. For example, you can’t get shingles if someone who has it coughs or sneezes on you.
You Asked, We Answered
- Can I go out in public with shingles? Can I go to work?- Judy M.
Shingles is contagious from the onset of symptoms until the rash and blisters have crusted dry. You can still go out in public or to work, but you should avoid being around pregnant women.
The herpes-zoster virus, which causes shingles and the chickenpox, can cause serious health risks in both pregnant women and their babies. Risks include pneumonia and birth defects. If you realize that you unknowingly exposed yourself to a pregnant woman, notify her immediately so that she can contact her OB/GYN for recommendations.- Healthline Medical Team
Anyone who has had chickenpox can get shingles. People of any age can get shingles, but it’s most common in people who are in their 60s and 70s. Shingles is very common. Half of the American population will show signs of the disease by the time they’re 80 years old.
The virus tends to reactivate when your immune system is weaker than normal. It’s not unusual to get shingles when you’re already sick or stressed.
The outward symptoms of shingles look a lot like a case of chickenpox. Both diseases feature raised blisters that open, ooze fluid, and crust over.
Shingles usually affects one area of your body. The chickenpox rash can occur on different parts of the body. Shingles blisters are most prevalent on your torso, wrapping around your waist like a belt on one side of the body. The word “shingles” comes from the Latin word for “belt.” The shingles rash may also appear on one side of your face.
Shingles travels along a nerve path, causing pain and strange sensations. Your skin might tingle or feel like it’s burning before the blisters appear. Itching and sensitivity to touch are also symptoms of shingles.
Shingles pain varies in severity and can be difficult to treat with over-the-counter pain medications. Your doctor might prescribe antidepressants or steroids. These two types of drugs can successfully relieve nerve pain in some people.
Most people who have shingles experience pain and discomfort for a short period and then have a full recovery. People usually only have one episode of shingles in their lifetime. Shingles outbreaks are temporary. They usually clear up within a month. However, they can have some lasting effects on your health and well-being.
The nerve pain of shingles can linger, lasting for weeks or even months in some cases. Generally, shingles pain is more persistent and longer lasting in older adults. Younger people usually show no signs of the disease once the blisters have cleared up.
Medical advances, including the chickenpox and shingles vaccines, mean that fewer people will get chickenpox and shingles in the future.
Keeping the shingles rash clean and covered can help prevent spreading the virus to others who are at risk. Wash your hands frequently, and try not to touch the blisters.
Adults over the age of 60 should consider getting the shingles vaccine. The vaccine reduces the risk of getting shingles and having the widespread nerve pain associated with it.
Talk to your doctor to find out if you’re a candidate for the shingles vaccine.