Cause and Transmission

What You Need to Know
  • People develop 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 never had chickenpox or never got chickenpox vaccine.

Shingles is caused by varicella-zoster virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chickenpox

Once a person has chickenpox, the virus stays in their body. The virus can reactivate later in life and cause shingles.

Most people who develop shingles only have it one time during their life. However, you can have shingles more than once.

A person with shingles can spread varicella-zoster virus to others

People who never had chickenpox or didn’t get chickenpox vaccine can get infected with VZV from someone who has shingles. These people can get the virus through direct contact with the fluid from shingles rash blisters or breathing in virus particles that come from the blisters. If they get infected, they will develop chickenpox, not shingles. They could then develop shingles later in life.

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

Slowing the spread

Covering the shingles rash can lower the risk of spreading VZV to others. People with shingles cannot spread the virus before the blisters appear or after the rash scabs over.

To prevent spreading VZV to others

  • Cover the rash
  • Avoid touching or scratching the rash
  • Wash your hands often for at least 20 seconds
  • Avoid contact with the following people until your rash scabs over
    • Pregnant women who never had chickenpox or chickenpox vaccine
    • Premature or low birth weight infants
    • People who are immunocompromised (have a weakened immune system) such as people taking immunosuppressive medications (that lower the body’s normal immune response) or undergoing cancer treatment, organ transplant recipients, and people with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection

Some people have a greater risk for having shingles and related complications.

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) infection
  • Take drugs that keep their immune systems from working properly, such as steroids and drugs given after an organ transplant