Is shingles contagious?

What is shingles?

Shingles mean belt or girdle and is derived from Latin and French words. It is mainly represented by a single broadband of rashes. In the majority of people, it usually spread in the area where a single sensory nerve supplied in the skin. This part of the skin is called a dermatome. The pain associated with Shingles can spread in all part of the dermatome.

Is shingles airborne? How do you catch shingles?
Is shingles airborne? How do you catch shingles?

Shingles is a viral infection that causes a painful rash and it can occur anywhere in the body. In this disease singles stripe of blisters that cover either the left or right side of your torso. The virus responsible for the varicella-zoster virus, this is the virus which is responsible for chickenpox also. The virus enters into the body via chicken pox, once you had chicken pox, the virus remains inactive in the nerve tissue (near spinal cord and brain).  This virus can get reactive after years in the form of Shingles. Shingles is a very painful condition. However, it is not a life-threatening disease. The chances of complications and spread of this painful disease can be prevented with the help of vaccines. An early treatment is also a key to prevent from Shingles complications.

Some most common symptoms of Shingles include tingling, itching and localized but deep pain. People usually develop blistering rashes; however, it is not necessary in all cases. The rashes may last for two to four weeks, most people found to get complete recovery from this disease. The rashes are most common and quick diagnostic feature of Shingles.

What are the symptoms of shingles?

The signs and symptoms of shingles usually affect only a small section of one side of your body. These signs and symptoms may include:

  • Pain, burning, numbness or tingling
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • A red rash that begins a few days after the pain
  • Fluid-filled blisters that break open and crust over
  • Itching

Some people also experience:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Fatigue

The first and foremost symptom of shingles is the pain. It can be excruciating and intense in some cases. Shingles can be mistakenly confused with diseases affecting the heart, lungs, or kidneys because of the location of the pain. The rash cannot be the reason for the pain in shingles as some people experience pain without developing a rash. So you should never ignore a pain in the side of your body, if it is not related to any of another disease, it could be due to shingles.

If I have shingles am I contagious?

Shingles is a disease which is not contagious in terms of getting infected from one person to another. A person who once had a history of chickenpox and has taken the chicken pox vaccination already, and is healthy too is not at all susceptible to shingles, if protected. But a person who has never been exposed to the chicken pox virus and not vaccinated with chicken pox vaccination can be sensitive to the viral infection by a patient who is suffering from shingles. Such people when exposed to shingles virus become susceptible to chickenpox, rather than shingles. Babies, young children, and unvaccinated individuals are the people who are prone to shingles. So people with Shingles are actually contagious for varicella zoster virus (VZV) infections in the form of chickenpox.

Can you catch shingles from someone who has it?
Image Credit:

People who have a history of chickenpox are more prone to get shingles once in their lifetime.   You can cover the blisters or rashes of the shingles with dressing or a cloth, it will be beneficial in preventing the infection more severe and less it will be transmitted to others. Shingles is a complicated situation in pregnancy, usually, it does not occur in pregnancy, but it occur, it may harm the fetus

What are the risk factors for shingles?

Shingles can develop in people who ever had the chicken pox. The vaccination against chickenpox prevents the one from chicken pox as well as shingles.

Factors that may increase your risk of developing Shingles include:

  • Age: Shingles is most common in people older than 50. The risk increases with age. Some experts estimate that half the people age 80 and older will have Shingles.
  • Certain diseases:Diseases that weaken your immune system, such as HIV/AIDS and cancer, can increase your risk of Shingles.
  • Undergoing cancer treatments:Radiation or chemotherapy can lower your resistance to diseases and may trigger Shingles.
  • Medications and drugs:Drugs designed to prevent rejection of transplanted organs can increase your risk of Shingles — as can prolonged use of steroids, such as prednisone.

How long does shingles last?

The signs and symptoms of shingles last for about three to five weeks in most people. If left untreated, it can develop into postherpetic neuralgia, in patients (50%) above 60 years of age. The postherpetic neuralgia is a condition that can cause excruciating pain. Shingles always attack at the region which is supplied with nerves, and it can damage the nerves in the skin to the large extent. Shingles can take 3 to 5 weeks to get cured whereas postherpetic neuralgia may last for months to years. Therefore, never leave a shingles infection untreated.

How shingles spreads?

A person who never had chicken pox is more prone to get the shingles from the person carries varicella-zoster virus. Because once you are exposed to chicken pox, your body may have developed the antibodies against the virus responsible for chicken pox and shingles as well.

Can you get shingles if you haven't had the chicken pox?

Shingles appear in the form of oozing and open blisters and the virus varicella zoster can spread through contact with shingles blisters. You are more prone to get chickenpox if you are exposed to the varicella zoster virus from the open blisters of shingles infected person. After sometime blisters can turn into crusty scabs which are almost noncontagious. Also, a blister which is properly covered is not contagious. You cannot get the infection from the coughing and sneezing of an infected person because the virus is not transmittable via saliva and nasal secretions.

How to avoid spreading Shingles?

You can spread the varicella-zoster virus from the time that your symptoms start until your rash and blisters have crusted dry whereas you’re typically less likely to transmit the varicella-zoster virus with Shingles than with chickenpox. If you are healthy otherwise and have shingles, you can continue your daily activities and go to your workplace with some prevention. Here we have mentioned few tips that will help you to prevent the spread of the infection to other people:

  • You should keep the Shingles rash clean and covered.This can help prevent other people from coming into contact with your blisters.
  • You should wash your hands often.Also, try not to touch the blisters.
  • You should always avoid being around pregnant women.A herpes zoster virus can prove very much harmful to pregnant women and her baby as well. The exposure of this virus to pregnant women can lead to pneumonia and birth defects in fetus. You should notify the pregnant woman right away, if you think she can get infected by you or if you think she has been exposed to the varicella-zoster virus. You should ask her to contact her gynecologist for further recommendations.
  • You should avoid other at-risk people. You should keep yourself at distance from the premature babies, infants with low birth weights, and children who haven’t yet had chickenpox or its vaccine. Try to avoid people with weak immune systems. You should stay away from the people with HIV, organ transplant recipients, and people taking medicines for compromised immune system or for the diseases such as cancer.
  • Go for the Shingles vaccine is different from the chickenpox vaccine. It reduces the risk of getting Shingles and the widespread nerve pain associated with it.

Can Shingles be spread by touch or by saliva?

Shingles lesion shed the varicella-zoster virus when remaining uncovered or open; oozing blisters can also shed the numerous viruses. The one, who is never infected with chicken pox, can get infected immediately by touching the blisters because his/her body has not developed the antibodies for the varicella-zoster virus. The shingles also do not spread from the sexual activity or intercourse, until the infected person is shedding the virus. If your partner is not immune to the chicken pox and has been exposed to the virus through you, they can develop the chicken pox and perhaps the shingles later in future.

The varicella-zoster virus can spread to the other via saliva or nasal secretions only during zoster outbreak. However, this occurs rarely and no evident data is given about the frequency of secretion transmission.

What are the complications associated with Shingles?

Shingles can be complicated if left untreated and the complications from Shingles include:

  • Sometimes even after clearance of the blisters, some people suffer from the sharp pain. Such condition is called as post-herpetic neuralgia. Postherpetic neuralgia is a condition that occurs when nerve fibers get damaged and these damaged nerve fibers send the confused and exaggerated messages of pain from your skin to your brain.
  • If shingles occurred in or around the eyes, it is known as ophthalmic shingles, It can cause painful eye infections which can also lead to vision loss.
  • Shingles can also lead to encephalitis (inflammation of the wall of the brain), facial paralysis or hearing or balance problems, depends upon which nerve is affected.
  • Bacterial infection can also develop if shingles blisters are not treated properly and even if left uncovered.

When should people seek medical care for Shingles?

If you feel pain or see a rash on the one side of the body or face, you should see your doctor immediately. A medical treatment is required immediately in order to reduce pain or to avoid any future complications. An emergency treatment should be taken if a rash appears near eye or nose, as it may lead to vision loss also. A pregnant woman, a person infected with HIV, cancer, or immune-compromised patients who are taking medicines should consult their immediately when they any symptoms of shingles. Children should be vaccinated against chickenpox and old patients (above 60 years of age) and they should always discuss the condition and symptoms of shingles with their doctors.

What specialists treat shingles?

Primary-care physicians, including internal medicine or family medicine specialists, can treat the patients with Shingles; initial care may be started by an emergency medicine physician. An ophthalmologist should be consulted, if there is a chance the eye may be involved A pregnant woman should consult with their OB/GYN physician immediately if suspected with Shingles, they should. For long-term or chronic pain involved in postherpetic neuralgia, a neurologist and/or pain specialists may be involved in the care of the patient.

Are there shingles home remedies?

People who have Shingles symptoms and signs should see their doctor as soon as possible because the antiviral medication is effective only if given early. Individuals with facial, nose, or eye symptoms and signs should seek medical care immediately.

Avoid touching the blisters

You should not scratch the skin where the rash is located. Increase in infection or secondary bacterial infection can be exacerbated by itching and rubbing the blisters. Medications such as antihistamines and Lidocaine topical cream can be used for relieve in itching and these medications are available in the market easily.

Cool compresses for Shingles

Apply cool compresses for weeping blisters several times a day for almost 20 minutes. It will help you in soothing and dry the blisters. This all should be done after diagnosis of this disease. This also aids in removing the scabs and decreases the potential for bacterial infection. Tap-water compresses must be stopped once the blisters have dried, so the surrounding skin does not become too dry and itchy. You should always remember that weeping blisters contain the virus and are contagious to individuals who are susceptible to the chickenpox virus.

Maintain hygiene

You should always maintain hygiene by keeping the area clean with mild soap and water. Healing can be promoted by applying petroleum jelly. You should wear loose clothing to avoid extra pain from clothing rubbing against the rash. A skin to skin contact is mainly responsible for the transmission of infection which should be avoided anyhow. You should also avoid skin contact with others who have not had chickenpox, are ill, or who have a weakened immune system.

Can I give my baby pink eye if I have it?
Why is my poison ivy rash spreading? Is poison ivy contagious after a shower?