Overview: Herpes zoster, commonly known as “shingles,” is becoming more common in younger adults. A shingles outbreak is caused by a reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus, the virus that causes chickenpox. This virus can be contagious during rash outbreaks, making it important for you to seek treatment and take precautions.
There are many misconceptions surrounding shingles outbreaks. Read on to learn the basics of herpes zoster, including best practices for preventing its spread, and who can catch the virus from another person.
What Is Shingles?
Shingles is an outbreak that results from a reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus (chickenpox). Shingles is characterized by a painful rash that typically develops on one side of the body, often on the face or torso.
This painful rash consists of blisters that scab over in 7 to 10 days, then clear within 2 to 4 weeks. However, pain can last for several months after the rash has cleared. This pain, also referred to as postherpetic neuralgia, is the most commonly reported health complication from shingles.
Shingles is so common that an estimated 1 in 3 people will develop the condition within their lifetime. In recent years, shingles outbreaks have been reported by younger adults with much greater frequency. It is possible to experience recurring shingles outbreaks once you have already had an outbreak.
What Are the Symptoms of Shingles?
Common symptoms that accompany the shingles rash include:
- Upset stomach
Shingles may also lead to other health complications, such as:
- Chronic pain
- Ear inflammation
- Eye complications
- Retinal inflammation
- Skin infection
How Can I Prevent Shingles?
The best way to prevent shingles is through vaccination. There are two vaccines approved to prevent both shingles and its related complications. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that healthy adults aged 50 or older be vaccinated for shingles.
The two vaccines approved to prevent shingles are the zoster live vaccine (ZVL, Zostavax) and the recombinant zoster vaccine (RZV, Shingrix). The zoster live vaccine has been used in the United States since 2006, but the newer recombinant zoster vaccine is now recommended as the first line of defense against shingles.
The CDC encourages those at risk for shingles to get the Shingrix vaccine, regardless of whether they:
- Remember having had chickenpox
- Have had shingles in the past
- Received Zostavax in the past
Is Shingles Contagious?
Anyone who has previously had chickenpox is at risk for developing shingles later in life. You cannot pass herpes zoster on to someone who has never had the virus. However, the CDC cautions that you can pass on varicella to others who have not been immunized for chickenpox. To contract the virus, someone would have to come in direct contact with your shingles rash or the fluid contained in the rash’s blisters.
How to Prevent Spreading Shingles
You can prevent spreading the virus through fluids by:
- Covering your blisters. Clean and cover your blisters with fresh dressings as instructed by your doctor. The virus is most contagious while the blisters ooze or produce fluid.
- Regularly changing your bedding. Keep your bedding clean by washing them daily in hot water. If you can avoid it, do not share bedding with another person while you have blisters.
- Sanitizing surfaces. If your blisters have come into contact with chairs, benches, toilet seats, or other surfaces, then you should thoroughly sanitize the surface before leaving.
- Separating your linens and laundry. You should keep all laundry, towels, washcloths, and bedding separated from the linens and laundry of anyone who shares your living space.
You can still resume your normal activities and even normal intimacy during a shingles outbreak. You also do not need to worry about spreading chickenpox to others after your rash has cleared.
How Can I Manage Shingles Outbreaks?
Fortunately, you can now manage shingles symptoms using antiviral medications. Antiviral medications, such as Valtrex, acyclovir, and valacyclovir prevent the virus from multiplying, reduce the length of time it takes for the rash to heal, and also reduce the intensity of shingles outbreaks. These medications are most effective when started early, within 72 hours of the initial onset of any shingles symptoms.
Antiviral medications require a prescription. However, these medications are more accessible than ever thanks to our services at eDrugstore.com. Arrange a free medical consultation for a prescription and select the treatment that is right for you by calling 1-800-467-5146 today.
Shelby is a public health professional with research and field experience in sexual and reproductive health. She holds a Master of Public Health (MPH) and is a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES).