Sydney is a contributing health writer and editor who enjoys shedding light on health topics, making information available to anyone who wants it, and ending stigmas or lack of access to care and treatment.
Leann Poston, M.D.
Leann Poston, M.D. earned her medical degree from the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine. She completed an MBA from Raj Soin College of Business, focusing on healthcare. She is a full-time medical communication writer and educator.
May 6, 2021
Yes, the virus that causes shingles is contagious and can be transmitted from person to person. Shingles stem from a virus strain called varicella-zoster, which causes chickenpox as well, and is actually quite contagious.
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While shingles is not an immediately life-threatening condition, its rashes are painful and uncomfortable to live with. Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus – the same one that causes chickenpox. It’s also referred to as herpes zoster.
As the CDC puts it, “Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus stays dormant (inactive) in their body. The virus can reactivate later, causing shingles.”
The exact reason why certain people develop shingles is currently unclear. Not all people who develop chickenpox develop shingles. Some risk factors could include:
Once the shingles virus has reactivated, the following symptoms may occur:
These are the most common symptoms of shingles, but there are other, more severe ones. While this is less likely than the symptoms mentioned above, some people may develop rashes on their face and neck.
Typically around one eye, on one side of the face, or one side of the neck, these facial rashes are incredibly painful and sensitive. If left untreated, facial shingles rashes can result in permanent eye damage and other serious complications.
There is actually a relatively short window of time in which the shingles virus is contagious. Shingles is typically only infectious when the blisters are present and have not formed scabs.
The varicella-zoster virus inside the vesicles is contagious. It is possible for someone who has never had chickenpox or been vaccinated to get chickenpox from the varicella virus in the fluid.
The initial phase of the infection is called the eruptive stage. The skin on one side of the body following the path of a nerve will become sensitive to the touch and reddish in appearance. Pimple-like blisters will then form. These pimples will develop into fluid-filled blisters.
During the contagious phase, the blisters that have developed will break open, oozing the infectious fluid from within the body. As mentioned earlier, this phase will persist for about one week.
Shingles is contagious through direct contact with the fluid from shingles rash blisters, which is how shingles spreads. The blisters are filled with the varicella-zoster virus.
Again, shingles, or herpes zoster, is caused by the varicella-zoster virus. Chickenpox is the initial outbreak of an infection of varicella-zoster. So you can’t have shingles unless you’ve already had chickenpox. If you have an active shingles infection and spread the fluid from your blisters to anyone else, they can get chickenpox. You cannot get shingles from coming in contact with someone who has shingles. You can only get chickenpox if you have never been infected or vaccinated.
Because of how contagious shingles is, preventing the spread is very important. If you notice that your shingles rash has blistered and those blisters are releasing fluid, there are some actions you can take to prevent infecting someone else.
If you adhere to all of these tips, you will dramatically reduce the risk of transmitting varicella-zoster to anyone else.
Be especially careful to not spread the varicella-zoster virus to:
Like any virus, shingles is definitely contagious, and the best way to stop the spread is to be aware of how to protect others from the virus. Another way to reduce the transmission of shingles to those who might face serious health issues from it is to get vaccinated. Get your children vaccinated against chickenpox, as this will reduce their risk for shingles. Adults age 50 or older can get vaccinated to prevent shingles.
If you have more questions about your shingles or need medical attention, consult a doctor as soon as possible. Through our partner, PlushCare, you can make online doctor’s appointments with quality, board-certified physicians. Make your appointment now.
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