Can Shingles Be Contagious? Debunking Common Myths
Understanding Shingles: An Overview
Before we dive into whether or not shingles is contagious, let's first understand what shingles is. Shingles is a painful skin rash caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus stays dormant in the body. For reasons that are not fully understood, the virus can reactivate years later, causing shingles.
Shingles is characterized by a red rash that can appear anywhere on the body, but it often wraps around the left or right side of your torso. It's also common to feel burning, tingling, or numbness before the rash appears. Other symptoms can include fever, headache, chills, and upset stomach.
Is Shingles Contagious?
One of the most common questions I get asked about shingles is whether or not it is contagious. The answer is, yes, but with some caveats. Shingles itself is not contagious. You can't catch shingles from someone else who has it. However, you can catch chickenpox from someone with shingles if you've never had chickenpox or received the chickenpox vaccine.
This happens through direct contact with the fluid from the shingles rash blisters. Once the shingles rash has developed crusts, the person is no longer contagious. It's important to note that shingles is less contagious than chickenpox, and the risk of a person with shingles spreading the virus is low if the rash is covered.
Common Myths About Shingles
There are many myths about shingles that need to be debunked. First, many people believe that only older adults can get shingles. While it's true that the risk of shingles increases as you get older, anyone who has had chickenpox can get shingles, including children.
Another common myth is that shingles is a relatively mild condition. In reality, shingles can be severe and lead to serious complications, such as postherpetic neuralgia, which is a long-term nerve pain that can last for months or even years after the shingles rash has cleared up.
The best way to prevent shingles is through vaccination. The CDC recommends that adults 50 years and older get two doses of the shingles vaccine called Shingrix, separated by 2 to 6 months, to prevent shingles and the complications from the disease.
Vaccination is especially important for those with a weakened immune system due to health conditions or treatments. Even if you've had shingles before, you can still get the vaccine to help prevent future occurrences.
If you do get shingles, it's important to seek treatment as soon as possible. Antiviral medications can help reduce the severity and shorten the duration of the disease. These medications are most effective if you start taking them as soon as possible after the rash appears.
Additionally, pain relievers can help alleviate the discomfort associated with shingles. In some cases, your doctor might prescribe a corticosteroid medication in combination with an antiviral medicine to reduce pain and complications.
Remember, shingles can be a serious condition, but with the right knowledge and preventative measures, you can protect yourself and others from this disease.