Shingles Contagious Period

Is There A Shingles Contagious Period?

There is a shingles contagious period, although this is one of those cases where a straight yes or no answer doesn't tell the whole story. Shingles is a contagious disease, and there is a definite contagious period. The thing is, one cannot "catch" shingles from a person who has the disease. That of course begs the question, if you cannot catch shingles from someone suffering from it, how can it be contagious? To answer that, it will help to explain how a person can develop a case of shingles in the first place.


Chicken Pox Is The Key - Most of us have had our allotment of the so-called children's diseases, mumps, measles, chicken-pox, and the like. The chicken pox is the disease of interest here. The chicken pox is caused by a virus called varicella zoster, a highly infectious virus. Once we have encountered this virus and gone through the chickenpox ordeal, our immune system builds up an immunity to the virus and we will never get the disease again, or if we were to, it would be a very rare situation indeed. After the symptoms of chicken pox have gone away, the chicken pox virus, varicella zoster, remains in our bodies. Because of the actions taken by our immune system, varicella zoster can no longer harm us, but it has not been destroyed either. The virus will remain with us for as long as we live.

A Mutant Virus - The varicella zoster virus does something however, that can cause grief later on. It mutates into another virus called herpes zoster. Herpes zoster is somewhat of a misnomer, in that it has no relationship to the herpes virus. It does however have a relationship to the chickenpox virus, varicella zoster. In some people, usually people in their 50's ,60's, or later in life, this virus becomes active, giving rise to the disease we call shingles. Shingles is generally quite painful, whereas the chickenpox was mainly irritating. The most common symptom of shingles is a rash somewhere on the body, usually on one side of the body, which eventually becomes covered with small blisters, which are extremely painful to the touch. The condition can last for several weeks before going away. Shingles can return, the pain can remain, and shingles can affect internal organs, but each of these cases is rather rare. There seems to be a definite relationship between an outbreak of shingles and the condition of a person's immune system, which may be one reason why the elderly are more at risk of getting this disease.


OK If You've Had Chickenpox - Getting back to the shingles contagious period, we have to revisit the chickenpox. First, the only people who can get shingles are people who have had the chicken pox. But they get shingles because they already have the virus in their body, and not because they got it from someone else, someone who has shingles. If you have had chickenpox, and come into contact with someone who has shingles, you won't contract shingles. If however, you have never had chickenpox, and you come into contact with someone who has shingles, you may get the chickenpox!  In that sense, shingles is contagious, but what a person catches, isn't shingles, but the chicken pox.   If you do catch the chicken pox from a shingles patient, you then may become a candidate to come down with shingles at some later time in our life.

The contagious phase of this disease is the period from when blisters first appear until they crust over. During this period, the blisters should be covered as much as possible to avoid spreading the disease. If you have not had chicken pox, this is the period you do not want to come into contact with the sick person. In summary, while there is a defined shingles contagious period, it is not a fully contagious disease.