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Is the Shingles Disease Contagious?

Shingles or herpes zoster

Shingles is caused by the virus varicella zoster, which is the same virus that causes chickenpox to occur. A person cannot get shingles unless they have had chickenpox in the past. When you have had chickenpox the virus works its way to the end of the nerves, where it lays dormant for many years. At some point the virus is reactivated and travels back up the nerves and causes shingles to occur. There is no known cause of shingles or reason as to what makes shingles reoccur in people but it does usually occur in people over the age of fifty.

Most people first notice the onset of shingles as a painful, burning or tingling sensation on their skin. Most people are confused as to what the cause of this painful feeling is but usually within two or three days a rash will appear. The other major symptom of shingles is the rash that will be blister-like bumps that occur on the skin similar to chickenpox. The difference will be that shingles (herpes zoster) will cover only a portion of the body which is usually the chest and back area. These blisters will peak at about three to five days and then begin to scab over. Other symptoms of shingles are a fever, achiness, fatigue and itchiness.

A person who has shingles is only contagious to a person who has not had chickenpox in the past. Since the chickenpox virus can be very dangerous to certain people it is best to avoid people until the blister have healed over which is about seven to ten days. People to avoid are women who are pregnant, newborns and people with lowered immune systems. You cannot however pass shingles from one person to another, only chickenpox. The chickenpox vaccine will protect people from the varicella zoster virus but they must receive the vaccine before having chickenpox for it to be effective.

If you can get to your doctors within seventy-two hours of the herpes zoster rash first appearing, antiviral medication like acyclovir or valacyclovir may help to reduce the length of time the shingles remain. If you experience severe pain the doctor can give you prescription pain medication as a treatment for shingles. You should keep the affected area clean and uncovered and try not to scratch the area. The use of calamine lotion can be used as a treatment for shingles to help stop the itching. If the rash were to spread to your eyes, last longer than ten days without scabbing over or if a high fever appears, you should contact your doctor immediately.

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