Protect yourself from shingles

The rash erupts as clusters of small red patches developing into blisters appearing similar to chickenpox.  The fluid-filled blisters form a scab within seven to ten days and resolve within two to four weeks. 

Can shingles be spread to someone else?

Shingles itself cannot be spread to anyone else but the varicella zoster virus can be spread to someone who had not had chickenpox. Transmission of shingles can only occur through direct contact with the blisters.  This would cause a person to develop chickenpox who has never had it. 

The best way to prevent a viral transmission is to cover the rash avoiding touching it, wash hands frequently and avoid contact with other after the blisters have formed. 

Anyone who has never had chickenpox, pregnant women, infants, and people with weakened immune systems should avoid contact with someone with shingles.

Possible complications from shingles

The most common complication is post-herpetic neuralgia, pain that lasts longer than 90 days after the blisters erupt.  Between 10-33% of individuals with shingles develop this condition and the risk increases with age.  Blisters on the face may become infected with a bacterial infection which can be very serious.  Other complications can include eye and brain infections, but these are usually rare. 

Avoiding shingles

For adults age 60 or older, the best way to avoid shingles is to get a one-time dose of the shingles vaccine called Zostavax.  This vaccine is similar to the chickenpox vaccine.  It can reduce the risk of shingles and long-term pain associated with it.  People who have already had shingles or with a chronic medical condition can still receive the shingles vaccine.

The vaccine does reduce the risk of shingles by about half and even if a person does get the condition, it does reduce the chance of having long-term pain.

Every person over the age of 60 should discuss with their doctor about the shingles vaccine and to see if it is right for them.