Are Shingles Contagious?

Key Takeaways:

  • Shingles itself is not contagious, but the virus that causes it can spread chickenpox.
  • The varicella-zoster virus causes both shingles and chickenpox.
  • People who never had chickenpox can get it from contact with shingles blisters.
  • Covering the rash and good hygiene help prevent spreading the virus.
  • Avoid contact with pregnant women, infants, and immunocompromised individuals if you have shingles.


Shingles is a painful, blistering skin rash caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which also causes chickenpox. For many who get shingles, the lingering question is – can I spread this condition to family and friends?

This article will comprehensively evaluate the contagiousness of shingles. It covers the virus that causes it, how it spreads, steps to prevent transmission, and individuals who need to take extra precautions. Understanding the contagious period and how to contain the virus is critical for protecting vulnerable groups.

With in-depth analysis and the latest scientific information, readers will discover precise answers to their concerns about spreading shingles. The aim is to provide definitive information so people can confidently manage their condition without putting others at risk. Continue reading to learn the key facts about shingles contagiousness.

Overview of Shingles

Shingles, also termed herpes zoster, is a viral infection that leads to a painful rash with fluid-filled blisters usually localized to one side of the body. Other symptoms include headache, fever, nausea and itching or tingling along the affected nerve pathways prior to the rash outbreak.

It is caused by reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus that lies dormant in nerve tissues after an initial chickenpox infection typically during childhood. Declining immunity with aging or immune suppressing conditions allows the virus to reemerge along nerve fibers, often years or decades after chickenpox.

Shingles usually resolves within 2-4 weeks, but some people continue to experience nerve pain called postherpetic neuralgia. Early treatment with oral antiviral medications can reduce severity and duration. A vaccine is available to prevent shingles and complications in adults over 50 years old.

Can You Spread Shingles To Others?

Is shingles itself contagious?

No, the shingles rash and blisters themselves are not contagious. Shingles cannot spread from one person to another. However, the varicella-zoster virus that causes shingles can spread and infect others.

Can you get shingles from someone with shingles?

Direct contact with shingles blisters or fluid cannot cause another person to develop shingles. You cannot catch shingles from someone who has shingles.

The reason is that shingles develops from reactivation of latent virus dormant in a person's own nerve tissues after a prior chickenpox infection. The virus spreads from its hiding place internally via nerve cell pathways to the skin.

Can you get chickenpox from someone with shingles?

If you have never had chickenpox before and have no immunity, then exposure to the VZV virus from open shingles blisters can give you chickenpox.

Someone with shingles can potentially spread the virus to another person, causing them to get chickenpox if they have no prior immunity. This risk is low if the rash is covered.

Chickenpox develops 10 to 21 days after exposure to the virus. Symptoms include an itchy, blister-like rash, fatigue, headache and fever. Chickenpox in adults tends to be more severe than in children.

How Is The Virus Spread?

The varicella-zoster virus is highly contagious when shingles blisters are in the fluid-filled stage. It spreads through direct contact with the rash or droplets from blisters dispersed into the air, for example, through coughing or sneezing.

The virus cannot spread before blisters emerge or after the rash has formed scabs. The risk of transmission is low if rash areas are well covered and proper hygiene followed.

It takes direct exposure to VZV from active shingles blisters to develop chickenpox. Simply being near someone with shingles will not pass on the virus. Indirect contact with objects like clothing or bedding used by a shingles patient are unlikely to transmit the virus.

How long is a person with shingles contagious?

A person is contagious from the time blisters emerge until they scab over and no longer weep fluid. This contagious period is typically 1 to 2 weeks. In some cases, blisters can emerge in “crops” prolonging viral shedding.

Immunocompromised individuals may have longer-lasting active blisters and remain contagious for a longer duration. Keeping the rash covered can minimize transmission risk.

Preventing Shingles Virus Transmission

If you have shingles, it is important to follow precautions during the contagious period to avoid infecting vulnerable individuals. Steps to prevent virus spread include:

  • Keeping blisters and rashes covered with gauze dressings
  • Avoiding touching or scratching blisters
  • Washing hands frequently
  • Avoiding sharing personal items
  • Disinfecting surfaces of common contact
  • Waiting for blisters to scab over before returning to work or school

The CDC advises those with shingles to avoid contact with certain individuals at high risk of developing severe chickenpox:

  • Pregnant women who have never had chickenpox – VZV infection in pregnancy can cause birth defects and pregnancy complications
  • Premature or low birth weight infants – Severe infection risk
  • Immunocompromised persons – Increased complications due to weakened immune response – e.g. transplant patients or those undergoing cancer treatment

People in these groups who develop chickenpox should seek urgent medical attention. Passive immunization is sometimes provided to prevent complications.

Can the shingles vaccine prevent transmission?

The recombinant zoster vaccine Shingrix provides over 90% protection against developing shingles and postherpetic neuralgia in those 50 years and older.

By preventing infection, vaccination can also reduce risk of VZV transmission from shingles. However, it does not protect against chickenpox from exposure to others with VZV.

Who Is At Risk of Getting Chickenpox from Shingles?

Certain individuals are more vulnerable to catching chickenpox when exposed to VZV shed from active shingles blisters.

Unvaccinated children

Children play a major role in community transmission of VZV. Those who have never had chickenpox or the varicella vaccine are susceptible. Outbreaks commonly occur in preschool and primary school settings.

Unvaccinated adults

Adults make up around 25% of chickenpox cases. Those at particular risk include:

  • Healthcare workers
  • Parents or caregivers of young children
  • Foreign-born individuals from tropical countries where chickenpox incidence is lower
  • Military personnel
  • College students and teachers
  • Residents of correctional facilities and dormitories

Pregnant women

According to the ACOG, over 95% of pregnant women are already immune to VZV through prior infection or vaccination. However, those with no immunity are advised to avoid exposure to active shingles cases due to risk of severe varicella infection.

Immunocompromised individuals

Those with weakened immune systems such as patients undergoing chemotherapy, HIV/AIDS patients, or post-transplant patients taking immunosuppressants are prone to more severe varicella infections. Exposure to VZV can lead to deadly disseminated zoster.

Can You Get Shingles More Than Once?

For most people, a shingles occurrence confers lifelong immunity to future bouts. However, recurrent shingles is possible in elderly and immunocompromised persons due to declining immunity.

According to a 2017 study in Clinical Infectious Diseases, about 6% of shingles patients can experience a recurrence within 8 years. Recurrent shingles tended to be less severe.

A review of several studies found these risk factors increased chances of shingles recurrence:

  • Age over 75 years
  • Immunosuppressive conditions
  • Initial case of ophthalmic shingles
  • Postherpetic neuralgia after initial shingles episode

Maintaining immunity through vaccination, staying up to date on other vaccinations, and keeping underlying medical conditions well controlled can minimize risk of repeat occurrences.

Shingles Contagiousness FAQ

Can you get shingles more than once?

For most people, a shingles occurrence confers lifelong immunity to future bouts. However, recurrent shingles is possible in elderly and immunocompromised persons due to declining immunity. About 6% of shingles patients can experience a recurrence within 8 years.

How long are you contagious with shingles?

A person with shingles is contagious from the time blisters emerge until they scab over, typically 1 to 2 weeks. Immunocompromised individuals may remain contagious for a longer duration as blisters take longer to heal.

Can you get shingles if you never had chickenpox?

No, shingles cannot develop in someone who never had a primary VZV infection from chickenpox. The shingles rash results from reactivation of dormant virus lingering in the body after chickenpox exposure earlier in life.

When are you no longer contagious with shingles?

Shingles is no longer contagious once all blisters and lesions have crusted over and no longer weep fluid. At this stage, the risk of spreading the varicella-zoster virus is extremely low so normal activities can resume.

Can shingles be spread by touching a sore?

Yes, touching fluid from an active shingles blister can spread VZV and infect someone without immunity. Avoiding direct contact with sores reduces transmission risk. Proper handwashing is key.

Can you get shingles from the shingles vaccine?

No, shingles cannot develop as a result of receiving the shingles vaccine. The recombinant zoster vaccine Shingrix contains no live varicella-zoster virus, only antigens that provoke an immune response to protect against future VZV infection.

Can I go to work if I have shingles?

It is advisable to avoid work while shingles blisters are oozing fluid to prevent virus transmission, especially in healthcare settings or schools. Once blisters dry and crust over, the contagious period has ended so returning to work poses minimal risk.

How do you avoid getting shingles?

Two key ways to avoid getting shingles are:

  1. Getting vaccinated – Shingles vaccines like Shingrix provide high protection against developing shingles in older adults.
  2. Keeping immunity strong – Maintain precautions against illnesses that weaken immunity. Manage health conditions properly. Stay up-to-date on immunizations. Reduce stress.

The Bottom Line

While shingles itself cannot directly spread from person-to-person, the underlying varicella-zoster virus can be transmitted through contact with active blisters. This allows susceptible individuals to develop chickenpox.

Careful precautions during the contagious period, especially avoiding contact with at-risk groups like pregnant women, infants and immunocompromised persons, reduces the likelihood of inadvertent spread. Vaccination remains vital for preventing shingles and its complications in those over 50 years old.

Understanding shingles contagiousness provides the insights needed to manage virus transmission risk and take appropriate protective measures. This allows those with shingles to confidently contain their condition.


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