Can I Catch Shingles?

Can You Catch Shingles From Someone Else?

Shingles is a painful rash that results when the chicken pox virus or varicella-zoster, reactivates inside your body. After getting chicken pox — at whatever age — the virus lies dormant in the dorsal root ganglia, or nerve roots, in the spine rather than being destroyed in your body. As you age, declining immunity may allow the varicella virus to reawaken, and travel up the nerve to the skin, resulting in a blistering rash and other health complications.

 This explains why older adults are more likely to get shingles. You might be wondering: is this potentially serious disease contagious, and if so, when can you catch it from someone else?

Answer: According to the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), shingles is not contagious, so you can't catch it from someone who has an active shingles infection. However, since the shingles rash does contain the varicella-zoster virus, you can catch chicken pox from someone with shingles, if you've never had chicken pox or been vaccinated against it.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend covering the shingles rash with clothes or dressings, in order to reduce the risk of passing chicken pox to someone else. In addition, avoid contact with anyone susceptible to chicken pox, such as pregnant women, premature infants, and people with a compromised immune system.

Here's what older adults should know about this painful disease


Age Page: Shingles. US National Institute on Aging Public Information Sheet. Accessed March27, 2013.

CDC Seeks to Protect Older Adults With Shingles Vaccine Message. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Public Information Sheet. Accessed March 27, 2013.

Herpes Zoster (shingles) Vaccine. Public Health Agency of Canada Public Information Sheet. Accessed March 27, 2013.

Marla Shapiro, Brent Kvern, Peter Watson, Lyn Guenther, Janet McElhaney, and Allison McGeer. "Update on Herpes Zoster Vaccination: A Family Practitioner's Guide." Canadian Family Physician October 2011 vol. 57 no. 10 1127-1131.

Rafael Harpaz, Ismael R. Ortega-Sanchez, Jane F. Seward. "Prevention of Herpes Zoster Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP)." Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR)of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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