Shingles is an infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). This is the same virus that causes chickenpox. Are shingles contagious? Can you catch shingles from someone?
Chickenpox spread easily and is highly contagious. So it’s normal to ask yourself how contagious shingles are.
In this article, we’ll explore how people transmit shingles to others. Plus, you’ll learn how you can prevent catching the virus from someone.
How Chickenpox Spreads
Let’s start with chickenpox, the first disease that a person will develop due to the VZV. In about 90 % of the cases, chickenpox will affect children under the age of 10. A person with chickenpox is contagious one to two days before the rash appears. They’re contagious until crusts replace their blisters.
Vaccinated children who have had chickenpox develop blisters that may not leave crusts. In this case, children are contagious until no new blisters occur for at least 24 hours.
People can transmit chickenpox to others by direct contact with blisters, saliva, or mucus. The virus also spreads through the air by coughing or sneezing.
The symptoms of chickenpox develop 10-21 days after exposure to the VZV virus. Usually, symptoms show up around 14-16 days, though.
How Shingles Spreads
Shingles is less contagious than chickenpox. However, an infected person can still spread the virus to others. The VZV virus spreads in three main ways.
Direct contact with an infected person
Droplets from the rash’s blisters
Breathing in viral particles from the blisters
However, a newly infected person will develop chickenpox, not shingles. Later on, shingles can develop.
Once the painful rash with blisters appears on the skin, it is important to cover it. Covering the rash also helps to avoid touching and scratching the affected area. Wash your hands more often with water and soap will further help the spread to others.
Until the blisters become crusts, it’s best to avoid contact with vulnerable people. Those vulnerable to the virus include:
Pregnant women who have never had chickenpox
Pregnant women who have never had the chickenpox vaccine
Babies born with lower than normal weight
Individuals with a weakened immune system
Individuals with HIV
Those taking immunosuppressive drugs
People undergoing chemotherapy treatments
Those who have had organ transplants
It’s best to stay away from people, in general, to avoid spreading shingles.
Preventing Chickenpox and Shingles with Vaccines
Vaccines are available for both chickenpox and shingles. Pediatricians recommend children receive the chickenpox (varicella) vaccine. They will receive the first dose at 12-15 months of age and the second dose between ages four and six years old.
The CDC recommends that children who receive their first dose after the age of seven waits at least three months to get the second dose. If the child is over 13 years old, they can wait one month between doses.
In some cases, children may not receive the chickenpox vaccine. In other cases, doctors administer the vaccine with caution. Talk to your doctor and read details from the CDC for more information.
Shingrix, the shingles vaccine, provides protection against shingles. It also protects against the shingles complication of postherpetic neuralgia. Generally, people over the age of 50 receive the vaccine.
The CDC states that two doses of the shingles vaccine have an efficacy of over 90% in protecting against shingles and postherpetic neuralgia. Furthermore, the protection stays high for four years after getting the vaccine.
As per the CDC, a person should not receive the vaccine if there’s a history of allergic reaction to vaccines. If an adult does not test positive for the VZV virus, they should opt for the chickenpox vaccine instead.
Those with an active case of shingles or pregnant and breastfeeding women should not receive the vaccine. People with a fever of 101.3°F or higher should wait for the vaccine too.
Preventing Shingles with Healthy Lifestyle
Your lifestyle choices can make you more vulnerable or protect you against shingles. Stress, diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure weaken the immune system. Therefore, they are more likely to catch shingles from someone.
Everyone who wants to prevent shingles should consider avoiding stress and sleep well. They should also maintain a healthy weight and diet. We recommend the Mediterranean diet and exercising regularly.
When it comes to the spread of shingles, here are the key points to remember: You can not catch shingles from someone who has shingles.
However, if you are not vaccinated against chickenpox, you can catch chickenpox from someone with shingles. The next episode of the VZV infection will lead to an outbreak of shingles.
Vaccines are available for both chickenpox and shingles. For the shingles vaccine, consult a pharmacist or family physician to see if it is suitable for you.
Improving your lifestyle can also help to prevent shingles. With a healthy diet, regular exercise, stress management, and good sleep, you can stay healthy.