You may have heard that shingles is contagious. You might be wondering how contagious shingles actually are and whether or not you should be worried about catching it from someone else. This blog post will discuss the causes of shingles and the risks of being exposed to it to help you make an educated decision about your risk factors.
How is Shingles Caused?
Shingles is caused by the reactivation of varicella-zoster, a virus that causes chickenpox. After someone has had chickenpox, the virus can stay inactive in the nerve tissue near the spinal cord and brain for years without causing any symptoms until it becomes active again as shingles. The exact reason for the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus is unclear. Still, it is known that the virus can reactivate because of a weakened immune system, certain illnesses, or stress.
What Is the Risk of Contracting Shingles?
The risk of getting shingles increases as you age, and if other conditions contribute to decreased immunity such as HIV/AIDS, diabetes mellitus (type I or II), chronic renal failure, chronic liver failure, cancer/undergoing cancer treatment which involves radiation or chemotherapy, taking certain medications such as steroids for a prolonged period of time, or even pregnancy, there will be an increased risk for shingles.
What Are the Symptoms of Shingles?
The most common symptoms include a painful burning or tingling sensation in one part of your body, followed by a skin rash that develops within three to five days and typically lasts about two weeks. One may experience intense pain that can be felt from even the gentlest touch or breeze. There may also be flu-like symptoms that include fever, chills, and a headache. Those who have shingles can experience complications such as postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), where damaged nerve fibers send exaggerated messages of pain from your skin to your brain. It is a condition of persistent pain even after the rashes from shingles have faded, and it can typically last for months to years.
Is There Treatment for Shingles?
Treatment will depend on the severity of the infection, but treatment most commonly involves antiviral drugs such as acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir. This is most effective when started within 72 hours of the onset of the rash. The side effects from these drugs are typically not severe but may include weakness, diarrhea; nausea and vomiting; rash or itchiness at the site of application.
Is shingles contagious?
Shingles is not contagious. As mentioned above, shingles is caused by the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus after being previously infected. Therefore, it is not possible to catch shingles from someone. However, the virus itself is highly contagious, and one can catch chickenpox from someone with shingles. This would mean that people who have never contracted chickenpox or have never gotten the chickenpox or shingles vaccine are exceptionally vulnerable to infection. If you have shingles, it is recommended that you try to stay away from anyone who has not had chickenpox or who might have a weak immune system. The virus spreads two main ways: 1) through direct contact with the open sores of the shingles rash, or 2) through contact with the fluid from the shingles sores. One is most infectious is when there are open and fluid-filled blisters being exposed. There are several measures one can take to reduce the risk of transmission:
- Avoid touching the rash and wash your hands frequently.
- Cover as much of your skin as possible with clothing, non-stick dressing, or a towel when you are in public to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.
- Try not to share any personal items such as towels, sheets, or utensils if someone has shingles.