Shingles is an infection caused by a virus known as herpes zoster. This is the same virus that causes chickenpox. It is also related to the virus that causes genital herpes – but it is not the same virus, despite a similar name. As is the case with all of these infections, shingles is highly contagious and can most certainly be passed on to others.
An active shingles infection causes a distinctive rash on the infected person. Shingles infections are most commonly found in people over the age of 60 or so, but anyone who has previously had chickenpox is at risk. This is because the virus is never completely cleared from the body when you have chickenpox. The virus can lay dormant for many years, only to reactivate later in life as a shingles infection.
An active shingles infection can be passed from one person to another. In most cases, this transmission will happen from an adult with active shingles to a child who has never been infected with the chickenpox virus. These children will then go on to develop a chickenpox infection, not shingles.
A person who has had chickenpox previously cannot “catch” shingles from someone who has an active case of shingles.
It is important to note the stage of the shingles infection in order to determine if a person is still infectious. A shingles infection creates a series of very painful blisters on the skin. These blisters will ooze pus. This pus and the blisters are highly contagious and great care should be taken in treating them, especially for people who have no immunity to the herpes zoster virus.
If new blisters are forming, or any of the blisters are still “wet”, there is a chance of giving shingles to someone else. Only after all of the blisters are completely dry and crusted over is someone no longer able to pass the virus to someone else.
Shingles can be treated. There are anti-viral medications available for the infection. There is also a vaccine that can help prevent the infection from becoming active. This vaccine is generally only given to people over the age of 60. It is related to the chickenpox vaccine, and you must have previously had chickenpox to get the vaccine.
Most cases of shingles will resolve after treatment with no long-term problems. However, in some cases, an infected person will go on to develop a condition known as “post-herpetic neuralgia”. This is a condition where the virus damages the nerves and leaves the infected area of skin painful. If a person is still experiencing pain for a month after the rash has cleared, it can be a sign of post-herpetic neuralgia.
If you have questions about shingles and what you can do to prevent spreading it to others, have a talk with your doctor.