Shingles cannot be transmitted from person to person; however, the varicella zoster virus can spread from direct contact with blister fluid from a person with shingles to a person who has not had chickenpox. In such cases, the exposed person could develop the chickenpox. A person with shingles is contagious when the rash blisters. A person with shingles is not contagious before the rash appears or after the rash has developed crusts or scabs.
Shingles typically appear on only one side of the face or body. The most common location for shingles is in a stripe along one side of the body. Other locations tend to include the side of the face and the top of the shoulder and neck. Shingles can cause fever, headache, chills, tiredness, and upset stomach.
In rare cases, for people with compromised immune systems, shingles can develop as a widespread rash or affect the eye causing vision loss. Another complication of shingles is postherpatic neuralgia, a condition that can be extremely painful.
You should contact your doctor immediately if you suspect that you have shingles. A doctor can diagnose shingles by looking at your skin, examining cell samples, or with lab tests.
Several anti-viral medications can help shorten the severity and length of shingles; however, they must be initiated at the first sign of a rash. You should call your doctor immediately if you suspect that you might have shingles. Your doctor may recommend pain medication, lotions, and certain baths to help relieve pain and itching.
If you have shingles:
• Keep the rash covered
• Avoid scratching or touching the rash
• Frequently wash your hands to help prevent spreading the varicella zoster virus.
• Avoid contact with people who have not had the chicken pox, especially pregnant women who have not had the chicken pox or the chicken pox vaccine, premature or low birthweight infants, and people with compromised immune systems, such as those with certain cancers, receiving cancer treatments, organ transplant recipients, and people with HIV.
Am I at Risk
You may be at risk for shingles if:
• You have had the chickenpox. The CDC estimates that more than 99% of adults have had the chickenpox, even if they do not remember it.
• You are over the age of 50. More than half of adults over the age of 60 develop shingles.
• You have a compromised immune system from certain cancers, such as leukemia and lymphoma.
• You have HIV.
• You are receiving cancer treatments, such as radiation or chemotherapy.
• You take immunosuppresive medications, such as steroids or prednisone.
• You take immunosuppresive medications after an organ transplant.
About 20% of people with shingles, develop severe pain after the shingles rash resolves. This painful condition, Post-herpatic neuralgia, results from damaged nerves that send over-exaggerated pain signals to the brain. Pain management, including pain medication, anti-depressant medication, anti-convulsant medication and more sophisticated methods of pain management can help relieve pain associated with postherpatic neuralgia.
Bacterial Skin Infections
Shingles that are not cared for properly can develop bacterial skin infections.
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This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.
The iHealthSpot patient education library was written collaboratively by the iHealthSpot editorial team which includes Senior Medical Authors Dr. Mary Car-Blanchard, OTD/OTR/L and Valerie K. Clark, and the following editorial advisors: Steve Meadows, MD, Ernie F. Soto, DDS, Ronald J. Glatzer, MD, Jonathan Rosenberg, MD, Christopher M. Nolte, MD, David Applebaum, MD, Jonathan M. Tarrash, MD, and Paula Soto, RN/BSN. This content complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information. The library commenced development on September 1, 2005 with the latest update/addition on February 16, 2022. For information on iHealthSpot’s other services including medical website design, visit www.iHealthSpot.com.