The same virus ― varicella-zoster virus ― causes both chickenpox and shingles. Chickenpox is very contagious. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one person with chickenpox can infect up to 90% of the people they come in close contact with, if those people aren’t immune to the virus (meaning they’ve had chickenpox or the vaccine).
Though they’re caused by the same virus, shingles aren’t as contagious as chickenpox. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get someone else sick when you have shingles.
At Associated Skin Care Specialists, our skilled, board-certified dermatologists recommend anyone with shingles get treatment right away. With early care, we can reduce the length of your infection and the severity of your symptoms.
Here, we want to talk about shingles, when it’s contagious, and what you can do to protect yourself and others from the contagious virus.
Shingles is a painful rash caused by reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus from your chickenpox infection. After you recover from chickenpox, the inactive virus stays in your body, hiding in nerve tissue near your brain and spinal cord.
In most people, the virus remains inactive. However, in some people, the virus reactivates, causing the painful, blistering rash. Researchers are still investigating what triggers the dormant virus, but theorize the infection may recur during times of stress coupled with a weakened immune system.
Anyone with a history of chickenpox can develop shingles.
You can pass the virus that causes shingles to other people during the blister phase of your infection. However, they won’t get shingles. They’ll get chickenpox.
Shingles starts as an itching, burning, or stabbing pain on your skin. You then develop a raised rash, usually only on one side of the body. About 3-4 days after the rash appears, you develop the painful, open, fluid-leaking blisters.
About 10 days later, the open blisters crust over and dry out. Shingles are no longer contagious when the rash crusts over.
If you have the blistering shingles rash, keeping the rash covered helps prevent the spread of the virus. We also recommend you stay away from anyone who’s never had chickenpox so they don’t get sick.
Though you can’t stop shingles once the infection starts, we can help you recover faster if you come in and see us right away. We can prescribe an antiviral medication that can reduce the severity of your symptoms and the duration of your infection. These medications work best when given within the first 72 hours of your shingles symptoms.
You can also protect yourself from shingles by getting the shingles vaccine. Talk to your primary care provider about when you need the vaccine.
Yes, shingles are contagious. But you can take steps to protect yourself from getting shingles or passing the virus to other people.
If you’re in the early stages of your shingles, we can help. We can provide the dermatology care you need at our offices in Minneapolis, Blaine, Eden Prairie, Maple Grove, or Coon Rapids, Minnesota. Use our convenient online scheduling tool by following the links above to make an appointment today. Or, call one of our offices.
For your convenience, we offer telemedicine appointments.
We also have an office in Fridley, Minnesota, to address dermatology needs.