Here's how you can catch chickenpox from someone with shingles
Shinglesis not contagious, but it is caused by a virus that you can spread to another person which may cause them to develop chickenpox.
- You can only catch chickenpox from someone with shingles if you have never been exposed to the virus before either by catching chickenpox or getting vaccinated for the infection.
- You can only spread the shingles virus if someone directly touches the open sores of a shingles rash.
- This article was medically reviewed by Scott Kaiser, MD, geriatrician, and Director of Geriatric Cognitive
Healthfor Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
Shingles is an itchy skin rash caused by the same virus as chickenpox. It usually affects people over the age of 50, but it's possible to get it at a younger age.
About a third of US adults over 50 develop shingles, but unlike chickenpox, the condition is rarely spread between people. Here's what you need to know about how shingles develops and how to protect yourself from getting it.
What is shingles?Anyone who has had chickenpox has the varicella-zoster virus in their body. Shingles is caused by a reactivation of this virus. Advertisement
Following a case of chickenpox, the varicella-zoster stays in your body for the rest of your life. Instead of being killed off by your immune system, the virus hibernates in your nerves and is generally harmless for decades, until your immune system can no longer keep it under control.
"As we age, the immune system weakens and the virus can reactivate," says Kristin Englund, MD, an infectious disease specialist at the Cleveland Clinic.This is why people usually develop shingles after age 50 and the risk increases with age. In fact, experts estimate that half of all people over 80 will experience shingles.
Symptoms of shingles
- Pain or tingling that starts before any rash appears
- Skin feeling sensitive to the touch
- A red, itchy rash that appears a few days after pain starts
- Blisters that break open, expel fluid, and become crusted over
Transmission of shinglesYou can't pass shingles directly to another person. However, you can pass the varicella-zoster to someone who has never been exposed to it. So if someone who has never been vaccinated or caught chickenpox directly touches the open sores of your rash then they can develop chickenpox, which would make them susceptible to shingles in the future.Advertisement
You are the most contagious when your rash is blistering and leaking fluid, as this fluid is teaming with viral microbes. Once the blisters crust over, you're unlikely to transmit the virus.
If you get chickenpox as an adult, your symptoms are often much more severe than a child's. In adults, chickenpox can lead to bacterial infections, lung infections, and can even be fatal.
Treatment of shinglesThere is no cure for shingles, but you can ease the symptoms of shingles outbreaks by taking antiviral medications such as acyclovir, valacyclovir, or famciclovir. Advertisement
It's important to start the medication as soon as possible — if you start taking drugs within 72 hours of your first symptoms, you can reduce your pain and the length of the outbreak.
Usually these drugs can be taken by mouth at home, Englund says, "but in some cases shingles is so painful or close to the eye that it needs to be given intravenously in the hospital to get the infection under control quickly."
Complications from shinglesTaking antiviral medication can also cut your risk in half for developing postherpetic neuralgia, a condition where your skin remains very painful even after the shingles rash heals. Advertisement
"Some people are left with a lot of pain along the nerve route that can last for months or even years," Englund says. "This pain can be so severe that it interferes with daily life."
Postherpetic neuralgia affects about one-third of people who get shingles.
How to prevent the spread of shingles"The best way to prevent yourself from getting shingles is to get the Shingrix vaccine," Englund says. The vaccine has been available since 2017, and studies show that it is 85% to 90% effective at preventing shingles and subsequent postherpetic neuralgia. Advertisement
- You have already had shingles in the past.
- You previously got the older, less effective shingles vaccine, Zostavax, as long as 8 weeks have passed.
- You don't know if you have already had chickenpox or not.
- You are pregnant or breastfeeding.
- You are currently having a shingles rash outbreak.
- You test negative for immunity to chickenpox — this means that you have never gotten the virus and should get a chickenpox vaccine instead.
Most kids get the vaccine between 12 and 15 months and have another booster shot between the ages of 4 to 6. However, you can get the chickenpox vaccine at any age.
Shingles is a painful condition that can develop into serious chronic pain if it is left untreated. If you are over 50, ask your doctor about getting the Shingrix vaccine to keep yourself protected.
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