Shingles is not contagious, but someone can transmit the virus when the shingles rash is in the blister phase.

Shingles — also known as herpes zoster — is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox.

Shingles itself is not contagious, but the virus is. If you have shingles, you can pass the virus to another person, which could then cause them to develop chickenpox.

The varicella-zoster virus stays in that person’s nerve tissue indefinitely. It may be inactive for most of a person’s life but can reactivate and cause shingles.

Read on to learn more about shingles and how to prevent the transmission of the varicella-zoster virus.

The varicella-zoster virus can be transmitted through contact with open shingles blisters. It typically passes from someone with shingles to someone who has never had chickenpox. If a person has had chickenpox, they usually have antibodies against the virus in their body.

You cannot contract the virus through contact with the saliva or nasal secretions of someone who has shingles, except in rare cases. That means you usually can’t acquire the virus if someone who has it coughs or sneezes on you.

Most people have the varicella-zoster virus in their bodies, but it only reactivates in around one-third of people. Experts do not know why some people develop it and others don’t.

The chance of this happening increases as a person gets older. Around half of all cases occur after the age of 60 years, and the risk increases significantly from age 70 onward.

You might also have a higher risk if you:

  • have a health condition that affects the immune system
  • are taking medications that affect the immune system
  • have too much sun exposure

Even a common cold can affect the immune system and trigger shingles in some people.

The most noticeable symptoms are blisters and pain.


The outward symptoms of shingles look similar to chickenpox. Both diseases cause raised blisters that open, ooze fluid, and crust over.

But unlike the chickenpox rash, which can occur on different parts of your body, shingles usually affect one area of your body. Shingles blisters are most prevalent on your torso, which wraps around your waist on one side of your body. In fact, the word “shingles” comes from the Latin word for “belt.”

The shingles rash may also appear on one side of your face. If this happens, contact a doctor immediately.

Learn more about what shingles looks like on the skin.


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. It can be challenging to treat with over-the-counter pain relievers.

Some people experience nerve pain after the visible symptoms of shingles clear. This is known as postherpetic neuralgia. Approximately 10–18% of people with shingles develop postherpetic neuralgia, and the risk increases with age.

Other symptoms

The virus can cause symptoms unrelated to rashes, including:

  • headache
  • fever and chills
  • generally feeling unwell
  • upset stomach
  • tingling, burning, numbness, and pain in the skin

Learn more about shingles without a rash here.

Shingles is not contagious. But if someone comes into contact with the rash at a certain stage, they may contract the varicella-zoster virus and develop chickenpox. If they have chickenpox, shingles can develop later in life.

To prevent transmitting the virus, keep shingles rashes covered. Cover the rash from when the blisters appear to when they crust and scab over.

This usually takes 7–10 days, and the broader rash will usually clear after 2–4 weeks.

The varicella-zoster virus is typically less likely to be transmitted with shingles than with chickenpox. However, the varicella-zoster virus can be passed on from when your symptoms start until your rash and blisters have crusted dry.

If you have shingles and are otherwise healthy, you can still go out in public or to work. But be sure to follow these tips:

  • Keep the shingles rash clean and covered: This can help prevent other people from coming into contact with your blisters.
  • Wash your hands often: Also, try not to touch the blisters.
  • Avoid being around pregnant people: The varicella-zoster virus can cause serious health risks for both pregnant people and their babies.
  • Avoid other at-risk people: Do not go into proximity to premature babies, infants with low birth weights, and children who haven’t yet had chickenpox or its vaccine. Also, avoid proximity with people who have weakened immune systems.

Doctors recommend the chickenpox vaccine for children. Preventing chickenpox will also prevent shingles.

For adults, a different vaccine called Shingrix is available to help prevent shingles. Health experts recommend the vaccine for all healthy adults ages 50 years and older. A healthcare professional will give two doses, 2 to 6 months apart, as an injection in your arm.

A double dose offers over 90% protection. The protection level stays above 85% for at least 4 years.

You can get the vaccine even if you:

  • have previously had shingles
  • do not know if you’ve had chickenpox
  • have already had the Zostavax vaccine, an older shingles vaccine in use before 2020

The vaccine is not suitable if you are currently experiencing shingles.

A shingles outbreak usually lasts 3–5 weeks. Most people experience pain and discomfort for a short period and then fully recover. People usually only have one episode of shingles in their lifetime.

Shingles outbreaks are temporary, but they can affect your health and well-being.

Shingles nerve pain 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.

Is it OK to be around someone with shingles?

You cannot get shingles from someone who has shingles like you can with the flu. But if you’ve never had chickenpox or haven’t been vaccinated against the varicella-zoster virus, you can contract the virus if you come into contact with the liquid inside a shingles blister.

You can develop chickenpox if you contract this virus.

Once you have the varicella-zoster virus in your body, it’s possible for the virus to reactivate and for you to develop shingles at some point in your life if you’re not vaccinated against shingles.

Since it’s very rare to contract the virus through contact with the saliva or nasal secretions of someone who has shingles, if someone with shingles coughs or sneezes on you, you’re not likely to get the varicella-zoster virus. However, it can be spread by the liquid inside shingles blisters.

Can I sleep in the same bed as someone with shingles?

Maybe. If you have never had the varicella-zoster virus, you are at risk of contracting it if you come into contact with someone’s shingles blisters or bedding that has liquid from the blisters on it.

Also, a person with shingles may be in pain or may have pain when touched.

How long does shingles last?

A shingles outbreak usually lasts 3–5 weeks.

How long should you stay home with shingles?

If you keep your blisters covered, you may not need to stay home at all. But shingles can be very painful, so you may not feel like going to work while you have blisters.

Can I be around my grandchildren if I have shingles?

You can’t spread shingles to your grandchildren, but if they have not had chickenpox or been vaccinated, they can contract the varicella-zoster virus and develop chickenpox.

Keeping your blisters covered while around your grandchildren (and anyone else) and washing your hands frequently should prevent spread.

Can shingles spread from kissing?

It’s unlikely you will contract the varicella-zoster virus from kissing since it’s rarely spread from contact with saliva or mucous membranes.

However, if someone has a shingles rash with weeping blisters on their face or lips, you could contract the virus from kissing.

Can I touch my baby if I have shingles?

Since no baby has been vaccinated for the varicella-zoster virus, they can contract it and may develop chickenpox.

As long as all blisters are well covered and your hands are clean, you should be able to touch your baby. You may need to avoid premature babies or infants with low birth weights.

You also need to be very vigilant about handwashing until all your blisters are fully crusted over.

Shingles is a rash that can affect people who have had chickenpox, even if they had it years ago. The varicella-zoster virus causes it. The virus remains dormant in the body, but in some cases, it can reactivate and cause shingles.

The shingles rash is not contagious. But the virus can be passed on to another person through contact with the rash when blisters are present. Then that person may develop chickenpox.

There is less chance of passing on the virus if the rash is covered, and transmission can only happen from the time blisters form to when they scab over.

Having the shingles vaccine can help protect you from shingles.