It’s natural to feel uneasy and on guard when you know that someone in your home or at work has a case of the shingles. Just the sound of the word “shingles” can make anyone’s skin crawl. But half the battle is knowing where the condition comes from and how to live or work with someone who has it.
What Exactly is Shingles?
The word “shingles” sounds grosser than it really is. Shingles is just another form of the chickenpox and is caused by the same virus, varicella zoster. It’s also a very common disease—one out of three people develop shingles in their lifetime. That’s because if you’ve had the chickenpox before, the virus remains in your body and can reactivate. Factors like age, medication, stress, and other diseases can wake the virus up. The virus then travels down down your nerves and sprouts a new infection.
Can I Get Shingles from Another Person?
No, you cannot get shingles from another person. However, the varicella zoster virus is contagious during the “active stage” to a person who has never had the chickenpox before. Unlike the chickenpox, it is not spread through saliva, coughing, or sneezing. Rather, it is spread by contact with fluid from a blister. It is only contagious after the blister develops and before the crust or scab forms. And thankfully, it is a lot less contagious than chickenpox.
How to Prevent the Spread of Varicella Zoster Virus
If you are around someone with shingles, the risk of getting the virus is fairly low as long as the rash is covered. If you have a guest in your home with a rash, you can politely ask them to keep it covered to prevent the spread of the virus. Also, immediately wash or put away sheets or towels that may have come in contact with the person’s rash, especially if you have little kids who don’t quite understand how to be cautious.
If you’re concerned with a co-worker with shingles, you only have to worry if their rash is on a part of the body that may expose you to the virus. For instance, if they have shingles on their hands and they use the same supplies or equipment, you can alert your HR Department to manage the situation. But if your co-worker tells you they have a rash on their arm covered up by their sleeve, you shouldn’t be too concerned.
If pain from shingles becomes intolerable, see your doctor or go to the nearest emergency room. To read more about preventing other contagious viruses, like SSPE, visit our blog.