Shingles is a contagious disease caused by virus infection. The virus belongs to the same family of viruses that causes chickenpox. The medical term used for shingles infection is herpes zoster. Scientist call this virus varicella – zoster virus. Varicella is derived from Latin word variola meaning smallpox, a dreaded disease which killed many people since ages until the invention of its vaccine. The meaning of ‘Zoster’ in Greek is girdle. The lesions of shingles appear in girdle or belt of blisters.
What Causes Herpes Zoster Shingles?
Shingles is painful skin disease and it can affect any individual and at any age, though of course, adults are more often affected.Occasionally shingles may take epidemic form. It is necessary to know how shingles develop and how it becomes contagious. Usually the virus enters in the body during childhood in the form of chickenpox, once the lesions of chickenpox have healed the virus remains dormant in the body, it is not killed. It stays inside the nerves which lead to your skin. It is just like the virus sleeps inside the nerves for a long time without causing any trouble.
However when the circumstances are favorable it ‘wakes up’ and starts multiplying, this is the time it produces a set of shingles symptoms.When the immunity of your body is at its lowest, the virus wakes up; the triggering factors are physical injuries, mental stress, febrile illness, AIDS, chemotherapy treatment in cancer patient and certain drugs that suppress the immune system etc.
The symptoms are pain, itching and eruption of blister with fever. If a person has previous history of chickenpox, he may develop shingles later in his life. But if a person has not suffered from chickenpox in his life and he comes in close contact with a person suffering from shingles, he develops chickenpox.
How Long Is Shingles Contagious?
How long shingles is contagious is the next question that comes to your mind. Well by now we know that shingles is contagious, to know how long it remains contagious let us know what the symptoms of shingles are.
The attack starts with pain on local area of the skin as the virus is reactivated. There is locally increased sensitivity of the skin and mere touch to that area is painful. Fever is present in the range of 102 degree F but in some cases fever may be absent. The skin lesions develop 2 to 3 days after the onset of the attack. The rash develops typically in one line which later forms small to large blisters. This linear distribution is due to the nerve root involved.
There are crops of transparent blisters which usually last for a period of week, the content of this blisters soon turns to opaque. After a week the blisters either rupture or dry to form crusts. From the time blisters are formed till the time it forms crusts, shingles remain contagious. However for the spread of infection, close contact with the ruptured blister is necessary and the virus is not spread from sneezing or through the respiratory tract.
Shingles Infection Precautions
To prevent the spread of shingles following precautions are helpful.
- The virus is not contagious before the blisters appear.
- Take precautions to cover the rash to prevent the spread of blisters.
- Person who is suffering from blister should take care to cover the blister and should not scratch the blister.
- The patients should wash their hands often to prevent the spread.
- Their clothes should be washed separately and should not be mixed with other cloths.
- Primary chickenpox vaccine may prevent singles later in life. If you have not suffered from chickenpox get vaccinated for chickenpox.
- Practice yoga and meditation if you are over stressed as stress is known to lower your immune system.
- Eat well and try to remain healthy.