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Contagious Shingles Facts And Myths

Contagious shingles is another term for herpes zoster. The disorder often presents with a very painful rash with blisters along the side of the chest or abdomen. The pain is the major symptom of shingles and is followed by a skin rash in 1-2 days. The rash is always red, linear and has small fluid filled blisters. The blisters eventually break open and then dry over.

The question everyone wants answered is, “Are shingles contagious?” The answer is yes. However, the shingles virus is only contagious to people who have never had chicken pox. Thus, all individuals who have never had chicken pox can very easily catch the shingles virus if they have close contact with the person. The individuals who catch the virus do not develop shingles but in fact develop chicken pox. There is no way one can ever catch shingles from any infected individual.

It is recommended that individuals who have shingles lesions keep them well covered. If this is done, then one is not able to have direct contact with the blisters and the chances of acquiring herpes zoster are less.

There are at least 5-10 percent of individuals who develop shingles and do not develop a rash of blisters. Shingles is only contagious if the rash has blisters that break open. If there is no rash then there is no chance of spreading the virus. Moreover, shingles is only contagious during the time when blisters break open. The fluid filled blisters contain the virus and contact with this fluid is necessary for transmission. As long as the blisters are intact, the chance of transmission is small.

In general, shingles initially presents with pain followed by a rash on day 2-4. This is soon followed by blisters which last anywhere from 5-15 days.
How long are shingles contagious? The shingles contagious period lasts anywhere from day 3 to day 14 of the infection cycle. The best protection against shingles is not to be near an individual who has active blisters. Moreover, the individual with shingles can cover the blisters with a dry dressing and this will limit the chance of spread.

Individuals at highest risk of being infected from shingles are the following:

-Those who are on steroids and have become immunocompromised
-Those with cancer
-Individuals who are on a variety of anti cancer drugs
-Individuals with depressed immunity like HIV or AIDs
-Individuals who have never had chicken pox
-Elderly individuals over the age of 60
-Pregnant women or those who are planning to conceive
-Children less than 1 year of age

Healthy people who have had chicken pox can never develop chicken pox or shingles after coming into contact with individuals who have shingles.

For individuals who have shingles, a few words of advice:
Shingle disease contagious period occurs during the phase when the blisters break open until they crust. So in order to decrease the shingles contagious period, cover the lesion. Avoid exposure to strong sunlight and stay in a cool environment to limit the pain and itching. Finally avoid scratching the rash of contagious shingles so that the blisters do not break open.