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How Contagious is Herpes Zoster? How to Avoid Transmission

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Herpes Zoster or as synonymously known as shingles is an infectious disease. A previous chickenpox episode during childhood or even adulthood puts a person at risk of developing shingles later in life. Shingles usually occur in the elderly age group. Herpes zoster is caused by the same culprit as chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus. After an initial chickenpox episode, when your itchiness has subsided, the virus goes into dormancy in your spinal cord or brain. This gives the virus potential to cause a re-infection. The re-infection is what we know as shingles.

As with other infections, there comes a question about how contagious is herpes zoster. Shingles are only contagious when it’s in the blister phase. The virus cannot be transmitted from person to person during its dormancy or even when the rash has crusted. When exposed to individuals who have never contracted chickenpox or gotten a chickenpox shot, the virus would manifest as chickenpox. To differentiate, chickenpox causes itchy rashes but shingles cause painful ones. Comparatively, shingles are way less contagious than chickenpox.

If you have shingles, it is your responsibility to attempt to stop the transmission of the disease. Stay away from children and adults that have never gotten chickenpox or the varicella vaccine. It is vital to stay away from pregnant mothers as well. Varicella infection in a pregnant mother may result in life-threatening conditions such as pneumonia and encephalitis. It can also cause many other severe problems to the fetus she is carrying. You should also keep a distance from premature babies and people with weakened immunity such as cancer patients and patients that have undergone a transplant. Keep your rash covered at all times, if at all you have to be out and about. Practice frequent hand washing to inhibit transmission of the virus to those around you. Try your level best to not scratch the itch. Scratching may cause your blister to rupture. You can carry the germs on your fingers and infect someone unknowingly. Scratching is also detrimental to you, as you are exposing your rash to secondary infections and causing scarring issues. Keep your rash and blisters dry and clean to avoid bacterial infections. Be cautious if you suddenly develop a fever when the blisters are popping open and crusting over.

The best way to protect yourself and those around you is to not get shingles at all. The only way to make sure of that is to get vaccinated. Talk to your doctor about getting vaccinated. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advocates adults over 50 years of age to get vaccinated to avoid developing shingles and complications it may cause. If you suspect that you may have shingles, contact your doctor immediately. Early treatment and management will help in reducing the intensity of your shingles and help avoid further problems that shingles may cause. One of the most common long term issue after a herpes zoster infection is postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). This causes chronic pain after the rash is gone. There are patients who suffer from PHN for months to years together. Shingles that occur near your eyes need immediate medical attention. Re-activated shingles may cause scarring in the eye, swelling, redness and even glaucoma at times. Rarely, it may even cause a permanent loss of vision.

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