Is Shingles Contagious?
There’s a lot of confusion around shingles. We hope to clarify things a bit by explaining what shingles are, are shingles contagious, what you can do to prevent them, and what should you do once you have them.
What Are Shingles
Most people think of shingles as “Part II” of the chickenpox, and in some ways, they are. Shingles usually makes itself manifest years after the chickenpox virus infects someone. Although, not everyone who gets chickenpox gets shingles.
The virus responsible for shingles is known as the varicella-zoster virus. This is the same virus that gives people chickenpox. What happens is, the varicella-zoster virus settles into unused nerve tissue around the brain and spinal cord of people who contract chickenpox, where it will stay dormant for years until it eventually reveals itself in the form of shingles.
Shingles usually makes itself manifest in the form of a band of red blisters that cross the right or left side of the torso. It’s also possible for shingles to show up on other parts of the body, but the torso is where it most commonly appears.
The blisters are painful and can cause a variety of sensations from pain to numbness to tingling to itching. They are sensitive to the touch and filled with fluid. Some people experience fever, headache, fatigue, and sensitivity to light alongside these painful blisters.
Who is at Risk of Developing Shingles
Shingles comes from the same varicella-zoster virus as chickenpox, but more people contract chickenpox than ever contract shingles.
Why is that?
Experts have different theories as to why some people experience shingles later in life, but the main theory is that the immune system of those who contract shingles is somehow weaker than the immune systems of other people.
This immune system theory explains why shingles usually occurs in people who are older. As we age, our immune systems naturally weaken, making us more susceptible to disease. This is part of the reason why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people over 60 get immunized for shingles. According to the CDC, even though people are considered at-risk for shingles by the age of 50, shingles are significantly more common after 60 years of age.
Aside from age, other groups of people who are at a greater risk for shingles include the at-risk demographics mentioned earlier, pregnant women who are not immunized for chicken pox, low birthweight babies, people with cancer or HIV and people receiving immunosuppressive treatments for those types of diseases.
Is Shingles Contagious
You do not have to worry about catching shingles from someone because shingles themselves are not contagious. What is contagious, however, is the varicella-zoster virus. As your body goes through the healing process, those shingles blisters start oozing fluid. If someone has direct contact with the oozing fluid and has not been immunized in some way from chickenpox in the past, they may contract the varicella-zoster virus.
Since the varicella-zoster virus causes both shingles and chickenpox it is worth noting that anyone who comes in contact with the virus from a shingles patient will not get shingles, but chickenpox. It is possible that later on in life, that same person will experience shingles too, but there is no way to know for sure.
Even though one cannot contract shingles from someone infected with the disease, it is still a good idea to avoid contact with the infection, especially if you have not been immunized against chickenpox. It’s important to avoid direct contact during the oozing phase because that is when the varicella-zoster virus is contagious. The virus is not contagious before this stage, nor is it contagious after the blisters have scabbed over and dried up.
What to Do to Stop Spreading Shingles
If you’re looking to stop the spread shingles, you just need to follow some basic steps.
First and foremost, it helps to get vaccinated. There are two vaccines that one can receive to get immunized for the varicella-zoster virus. The first is the chickenpox vaccine, which has become a routine part of childhood vaccinations. The second vaccination is the shingles vaccine. The shingles vaccination has been recommended by the CDC for any adults 60 years of age and older.
If someone already has the shingles, the next best thing they can do is use best practices to prevent the spread of the varicella-zoster virus to those who live in close proximity to them. They can do that by taking the following steps:
- Cover the rash
- Avoid scratching or touching the rash
- Wash your hands often
- Avoid contact with pregnant women who are not vaccinated, low birth weight infants, and anyone with a weakened immune system due to immunosuppressive drugs, chemotherapy, organ transplants, or HIV.
When to Seek Medical Care for Shingles
If you think you have shingles, you should see a doctor immediately. There is no cure for shingles. Your body has to deal with the virus itself. But a doctor can both teach you best practices to decrease the likelihood that you spread the varicella-zoster virus to others and prescribe different medications and treatments to lessen or shorten the symptoms of shingles.
Most of the medications and treatments a doctor may prescribe will offer you relief, but there are some antiviral medications which may shorten the duration of shingles and aid in healing.
Also various creams and ointments can help provide relief as well. Emuaid is one of those topical skin creams that has been shown to calm inflammation and reduce scarring. Talk to your doctor about what medicines and natural products may help you as you experience shingles.
Shingles is not a fun disease where you get to stay home from work and enjoy yourself as you catch up on your favorite movies. It’s painful and can take weeks to go away. But there are plenty of things both you and your family can do to alleviate the symptoms of shingles as well as prevent the spread of the varicella-zoster virus in your household.