Shingles is not contagious, but the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), present in a shingles rash, can transmit chickenpox to unvaccinated people. This can happen through direct contact with a weeping rash. In rare cases, transmission is airborne.
After an individual develops chickenpox, VZV remains inactive in the body. Later it can reactivate, causing shingles. This
Shingles forms a rash of blisters that weep clear fluid. Direct contact with the liquid can spread VZV.
If someone who has never had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine comes in contact with the fluid, they may develop chickenpox, not shingles. Their risk of developing shingles later on increases.
Airborne transmission of shingles is
This article outlines shingles, how it spreads, how to prevent it from spreading, vaccination, and more.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), doctors in the United States diagnose more than 1 million cases of shingles every year.
Once an individual has chickenpox, the virus remains in their body in a dormant state. Later in life, it can reactivate, causing shingles.
Shingles, also called herpes zoster,
Generally, the rash occurs in a strip around the right or left side of the torso. Sometimes it can appear on the face, which may affect vision. In people with weakened immune systems, it may occur on the entire body, although this is rare.
The rash will form blisters that may weep clear fluid and scab in 7–10 days. Typically, they will begin to heal in 2–4 weeks.
Although shingles is called herpes zoster, it is different from genital herpes. It is not a sexually transmitted infection and cannot cause genital herpes or cold sores. The herpes simplex virus causes these.
For 1–2 days before the appearance of the rash, the skin where the rash will appear may feel painful, itchy, or have a tingling sensation.
Blisters form, usually in a strip around one side of the torso. They can appear anywhere on the body, however, including the face. The rash may continue to grow after it first appears.
The blisters may open, ooze fluid, bleed, and scab over. It generally takes 2–4 weeks for the blisters to heal.
Some people may also experience systemic symptoms such as:
Systemic symptoms will subside along with the rash.
Shingles spreads through
Although airborne transmission is rare, it is possible.
Covering the shingles rash best prevents spreading the virus to others, according to the
People should avoid scratching or touching the rash and wash their hands often.
The virus cannot spread before blisters form or after the rash crusts over. Shingles are only contagious when the rash sores are open, weeping fluid, or bleeding.
If an individual has shingles, they should avoid anyone who has not had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine, pregnant people, or anyone who has a weakened immune system.
To avoid contracting the shingles virus, people may wish to get the shingles vaccine at the age of 50, as recommended by the
People should avoid touching the rash of anyone who has developed shingles. It is also best to avoid touching any discarded wound dressings.
Consider wearing a mask indoors and wash hands often with soap and water. People should limit close contact with the person who has shingles.
Some people are at greater risk from shingles. According to the AAD, these include:
Shingles can lead to
- blindness, when it occurs near the eye
- hearing problems
- brain inflammation
For these reasons, everyone should take precautions to avoid contracting shingles.
This vaccine is a two-dose series, 2–6 months apart, as an injection in the upper arm. It is available at local pharmacies or through healthcare services.
The CDC does not recommend Shingrix for those who:
- have had a severe allergic reaction to any component of the Shingrix vaccine
- currently have shingles
- are pregnant
- currently have moderate or severe illness
Shingrix creates a strong immune system response in many people, leading to 2–3 days of discomfort and flu-like side effects.
The CDC recommends over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. A person should contact a doctor if the side effects do not diminish or get worse in 2–3 days.
The Zoster live vaccine (Zostavax) is no longer available in the United States.
Contact a doctor within
The doctor can usually diagnose shingles with a visual examination, although they may order a shingles test. During the test, a medical professional may draw blood or take a sample of fluid from the blisters.
Shingles is a painful rash that currently does not have a cure. However, it is treatable with quick medical intervention.
According to the CDC, the blisters usually scab over in
Shingles usually spreads through contact with fluid or blood from the blisters. In rare cases, it spreads through virus particles in the air. Wearing a mask around someone with the virus may protect a person from developing the virus.
To avoid transmitting the virus, a person with shingles can keep the rash covered, avoid scratching, wear a mask, and wash their hands often.
VZV causes shingles and chickenpox.
If someone with shingles spreads the virus to someone who has never had chickenpox, that individual will contract chickenpox, not shingles. Once someone has had chickenpox, the virus lies dormant in the body and can reactivate later in life as shingles.
Shingles often clears up on its own. However, a doctor may prescribe antiviral medications.