Are shingles contagious?

No, You can only get shingles if you have already had chickenpox. The virus that causes shingles, the varicella-zoster virus, lies dormant in your body after you have chickenpox. The virus can reactivate later in life and cause shingles.

You cannot get shingles from someone who has shingles. However, if you have never had chickenpox, you can get chickenpox from someone with shingles.

What are Shingles?

Shingles is a virus that causes a painful rash. It is also called herpes zoster. The virus is the same one that causes chickenpox. After you have chickenpox, the virus stays in your body. It can show up again later as shingles. 

Shingles usually starts as a band of blisters on one side of your torso or face. The blisters fill with fluid and then break open and crust over. The rash usually lasts 2 to 4 weeks. It can be very painful. Some people who get shingles also have fever, headache, and fatigue. 

Who Gets Shingles?

Anyone who has ever had chickenpox can get shingles. The risk goes up as you get older. About 1 out of 3 people in the United States will get shingles in their lifetime. 

What Causes Shingles?

Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus. This is the same virus that causes chickenpox. After you have chickenpox, the virus sleeps (is dormant) in your nerve roots. Years later, the virus can wake up (reactivate) and cause shingles. We don’t know why this happens. 

Is Shingles Contagious?

You can’t catch shingles from someone who has it. But, if you’ve never had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine, and you come in contact with the fluid from a shingles rash, you can catch chickenpox. Once you’ve had chickenpox, you can’t get it again. 

If you have shingles, you can spread chickenpox to someone who has never had it or has never been vaccinated. But, this is not common. The virus is usually spread when the rash is in the blister-phase. You are not contagious before the blisters appear or after they have crusted over. 

You are most contagious during the first few days of the rash. Avoid close contact with people, especially babies, young children, or anyone with a weakened immune system. 

How is Shingles Diagnosed?

A doctor can usually tell if you have shingles by looking at your rash. Sometimes, a skin sample may be sent to a lab to confirm the diagnosis. 

How is Shingles Treated?

There is no cure for shingles, but there are treatments that can help. The goal is to ease pain and help the rash heal as quickly as possible. 

You might hear about a shingles vaccine. The vaccine can prevent shingles or make it less severe. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the vaccine for people aged 50 and older. 

If you have shingles, your doctor may prescribe: 

  • Antiviral medicines to shorten the length of the rash
    Creams or ointments to ease the pain
    Steroid pills, if you have a rash that covers a large area of your body

Prevention

You can’t prevent shingles, but you can lower your risk by getting the shingles vaccine. The CDC recommends that people aged 50 and older get the vaccine. 

If you have shingles, there are things you can do to ease your pain and prevent the rash from spreading: 

  • Wear loose-fitting clothing to avoid irritating the rash
  • Keep the rash clean and dry
  • Avoid touching or scratching the rash
  • Use calamine lotion or cool, wet compresses to ease the itch
  • Stay away from people who have never had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine

When to Call the Doctor?

Call your doctor if you think you might have shingles. Early diagnosis and treatment can help ease your symptoms and shorten the length of the rash.