Shingles is an infection that is caused by the varicella-zoster virus – the virus that we most commonly associate with chickenpox. Basically, as soon as you get chicken pox, you have the varicella-zoster virus in your system, and once the initial infection has cleared away, that virus remains dormant within your body, located somewhere within the nerve tissue for the remainder of your life. When the virus is activated again for some reason that is not yet clear, then you generally experience shingles. You can only have shingles if you have already had chicken pox.
If you know someone who has been diagnosed with shingles, and you're wondering "how contagious is shingles", it's worth noting that this condition is less contagious than chickenpox. If you have not had chickenpox and have a compromised immune system, then you might contract this virus through contact with unscabbed shingles blisters. Once the blisters scab over, they are no longer contagious.
Can Shingles be Passed from One Person to Another?
If you're asking "How contagious is shingles?" chances are that you're worried about the possibility of catching the condition from another person. However, it's important to remember that shingles cannot simply be passed from one person to another. However, the varicella-zoster virus that causes shingles and chickenpox can be spread from a person with active shingles to someone else who has not had chicken pox before. In those circumstances, the people who are exposed to the virus might get chickenpox, but they will not get shingles.
Importantly, shingles can only be spread to someone who hasn't had chickenpox before. In this situation, someone with shingles can only pass the varicella-zoster virus onto you if you have not had that virus in your body, and it leads to chickenpox as an initial infection.
How Is Shingles Passed On?
If you have not experienced chickenpox before, or you suffer with a compromised immune system, then you might get the varicella zoster virus from contact with another person's fresh blisters. If you have not had chickenpox and you touch the fluids from the blisters, you may get chickenpox, but not shingles. The virus does not spread at all after all the blisters have broken up and formed crusty scabbed, or when those blisters are properly covered.
You cannot get shingles through contact with the nasal or saliva secretions of an infected person. For instance, you couldn't get the virus even if someone who has it coughed or sneezed on you.
How Contagious Is Shingles? – Protecting Yourself
A person who has active shingles can spread the virus during the blister phase. A person will not be infectious before those blisters appear. Once the rash has developed crusts, the person will no longer be contagious. If you have shingles, your doctor will recommend that you keep the rash covered, avoid touching it, and wash your hands frequently to prevent the spread of disease.
People with shingles are also asked to avoid contact with pregnant women, and people who suffer from low or damaged immune systems, as this can lead to a greater chance of infection.