Transmission

People get shingles when the varicella zoster virus, which causes chickenpox, reactivates in their bodies after they have already had chickenpox.

Quick Facts
  • You cannot get shingles from someone who has shingles.
  • You can get chickenpox from someone who has shingles if you have never had chickenpox or never received the chickenpox vaccine.

Shingles is caused by varicella zoster virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus stays dormant (inactive) in their body. The virus can reactivate later, causing shingles.

Most people who develop shingles have only one episode during their lifetime. However, you can have shingles more than once.

If you have shingles, direct contact with the fluid from your rash blisters can spread VZV to people who have never had chickenpox or never received the chickenpox vaccine. If they get infected, they will develop chickenpox, not shingles. They could then develop shingles later in life.

The risk of spreading VZV to others is low if you cover the shingles rash. People with shingles cannot spread the virus before their rash blisters appear or after the rash crusts.

People with chickenpox are more likely to spread VZV than people with shingles.

To prevent spreading VZV to others:

  • Cover the rash.
  • Avoid touching or scratching the rash.
  • Wash your hands often.
  • Avoid contact with the following people until your rash crusts:
    • pregnant women who have never had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine;
    • premature or low birth weight infants; and
    • people with weakened immune systems, such as people receiving immunosuppressive medications or undergoing chemotherapy, organ transplant recipients, and people with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection.

Some people have a greater risk of getting shingles. This includes people who

  • have medical conditions that keep their immune systems from working properly, such as certain cancers like leukemia and lymphoma, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
  • receive drugs that keep their immune systems from working properly, such as steroids and drugs that are given after organ transplantation

Also see Treating Shingles