Is Shingles Contagious?

Shingles is an extremely painful rash that has its origins in the Varicella zoster virus, also known as VZV. This is the identical virus that results in chickenpox. Once you recover from chickenpox, the virus remains in the nerves near your spine where it lies dormant. Most people have no problem after that. In some people, however, this virus will reactivate and travel along the nerves to come out along the dermatomes of the skin. Anyone who has had the chickenpox virus is susceptible to getting shingles. So is shingles contagious like chickenpox? Let's find out.

Is Shingles Contagious?

In most cases, shingles is not contagious and can't be passed from person to person. However, the shingles virus can shed from the rash and can infect a person who has never come down with chicken pox or has never had the chickenpox vaccine. This person is not immune to the chickenpox virus and will develop a case of chickenpox. They won't, however, actually get shingles.

Those people at the highest risk of developing chicken pox from exposure to someone who has shingles include babies, young children, any person who hasn't been vaccinated against chickenpox. It is even possible for an unprotected pregnant woman to pass along the chickenpox virus to her fetus.

When Is Shingles Contagious (The Virus of Course) ?

In the beginning, shingles starts as burning, numbness, or tingling of the skin, usually along a dermatome on one side of the body. The rash comes on next. While the rash begins to occur and until the blisters form and crust over, the person is susceptible to shedding the virus and passing the chickenpox virus on to a susceptible person. In the prodromal stage, before the rash starts, the person is less likely to pass on the virus, although it is still possible. The virus lives in the blister fluid, so unless they have crusted over, the person is considered contagious. The period from the onset of rash to crusting over is usually between 5-7 days. This is the time of the greatest chance of contagion.

How Is the Shingles Virus Transmitted?

The shingles virus is not waterborne, airborne or sexually transmitted. This means that the varicella zoster virus can only be transmitted when a susceptible person (one who hasn't had the infection in the past nor has had the vaccination) actually comes in contact with the infected blister fluid. When the blister breaks open, the virus is shed. It also means that shingles on the face, arms and legs, where a person can't hide them under their clothing, have a greater chance of passing on the virus to another. Remember that, upon contact with the varicella zoster virus, the individual will not get shingles. Instead, they will get a total body reaction that is referred to as chickenpox.

If you have the shingles, you should take care to wash the affected area every day and keep it bound with a bandage or underneath the clothes so that the virus cannot be touched by a person who is not yet protected against the chickenpox virus.

How to Prevent Shingles

Is shingles contagious? Not if you protect yourself by preventing the virus from attacking your system by getting two possible vaccines known to protect a person against shingles:

  • The chickenpox vaccine. This is a vaccine that has become a regular part of childhood immunizations and is designed to prevent chickenpox. It can be given to adults as well who have never suffered from chickenpox. The vaccine isn't a complete guarantee, but it will lessen your chance of getting chickenpox or will give you a very mild case of the disease.
  • The shingles vaccination. There is a vaccine against the varicella zoster virus called Zostavax. Designed for those aged 50 and over, it doesn't guarantee you won't ever get shingles, but it will lessen the severity of the disease and will decrease your chances of getting postherpetic neuralgia, which is a chronic pain condition that sometimes follows a case of the shingles. It won't work against those who have a weak immune system or someone who has an active case of the shingles.

What If You Have Infected With the Shingles Virus?

If you already have a case of shingles or are developing the symptoms of shingles, since you have got a sure answer to "Is shingles contagious?" there are some precautions you need to take in order to avoid passing along the infection to someone else:

  • Cover the rash with clean dressings and stay away from individuals who might come in contact with the virus.
  • Never scratch the rash and try not to touch it because it can get passed through contact with infected fingernails.
  • Wash your hands carefully any time you are in contact with the rash.
  • Wait until the rash has crusted over before coming in contact with individuals who might catch the disease.

There is no known cure for shingles. If you have shingles, you need to wait 1-2 weeks after the first eruption of blisters has passed and until the sores have begun to crust over. The total duration of shingles is about two to six weeks. In the meantime, antiviral drugs may need to be given, such as valacyclovir and acyclovir, to lessen the severity of the disease. Some doctors use tricyclic antidepressants and pain relievers, so you feel better while suffering from the condition. 

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