It’s painful, itchy, and tingly—but is it contagious? Shingles (herpes zoster) is an infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus (the same virus that causes chickenpox). As such, it’s easy to assume that shingles would be contagious. After all, chickenpox can spread like wildfire, and the same virus is behind both infections. With shingles, however, this risk is different.
While shingles itself is not contagious, an infected individual can spread the varicella-zoster virus to anyone who isn’t immune to chickenpox. In short, you cannot contract shingles from shingles. Once exposed to the varicella-zoster virus via shingles, susceptible individuals will develop chickenpox. After the initial infection runs its course, the virus will lie inactive in nerve tissue and potentially reactivate as shingles later on in life.
How Does Shingles Spread?
If you have never been exposed to chickenpox, contracted the varicella-zoster virus, or received the chickenpox vaccination, you can contract it after exposure to active shingles blisters. This usually occurs through direct, physical contact with the open sores of an active shingles rash. When the shingles rash is covered, however, the risk of spreading the varicella-zoster virus is low. To further prevent the potential spread of the varicella-zoster virus to others, avoid touching the shingles rash and wash your hands often. Until your shingles blisters fully scab over, it’s best to consider your condition contagious and also avoid physical contact with others—especially people at risk of infection.
Are You At Risk?
Shingles is a viral infection and is most commonly seen in people over the age of 60—it also tends to produce serious complications among seniors. Why is this older age group at a higher risk of infection? Medical professionals have found that weakened immune systems, stress, and greater exposure to chickenpox are the leading risk factors behind shingles—all of which the older population are more susceptible to. That said, individuals at any age can contract the varicella-zoster virus (chickenpox or shingles) and develop complications. This is particularly true for high-risk populations, which includes:
- Individuals with weakened immune systems
- People with chronic conditions (such as diabetes)
- Pregnant women
Fortunately, this viral infection typically resolves on its own in about one to two weeks, and there are preventative measures that can be taken against the virus. For seniors, this includes the shingles vaccination (Shingrix), which is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
On-Demand Treatment for Shingles
Shingles is non-life-threatening, but it can still be an incredibly painful condition. While the vaccine can reduce the risk of this infection, a shingles outbreak can be managed with early treatment. And that’s where DispatchHealth can help. We deliver medical care to homebound patients—including those with shingles—helping them receive the advanced medical attention they need so that they can recover comfortably at home. What’s more, we’re in-network with most insurances, including Medicare and Medicaid.
If you’re experiencing a life-or-limb-threatening emergency or time-sensitive injury or illness, please call 911 or visit the emergency room immediately.
DispatchHealth relies only on authoritative sources, including medical associations, research institutions, and peer-reviewed medical studies.
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