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     Can shingles be transmitted from person to person? It may come to a surprise, but the answer is actually no!  

     Shingles is caused by reactivation of the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chicken pox when initially infected. Once chicken pox has resolved, the virus remains inactive and lives in nerve cells. The virus can be reactivated and it can travel from the nerve body to the endings of the skin to produce blisters in the area of skin that the nerve is responsible for. Reactivation of the varicella zoster virus occurs when the immune system is suppressed. Suppression of the immune system can occur during illnesses and even in times of stress!

     The varicella zoster virus can spread from a person with active shingles to cause chicken pox in someone who has never had chickenpox or has received chickenpox vaccine. The virus is spread through direct contact with fluid from the rash blisters caused by shingles. An infected individual with active shingles can spread the virus when the rash is in the blister phase. A person is non-infectious before the blisters appear, but once the rash has developed crusts, the person is no longer infectious. So, a person with shingles does not infect another person with shingles, but they can infect someone with chicken pox if direct contact with fluids from the vesicles occur.  

     The shingles rash typically occurs in a single area of the skin and is either found on the left or right side of the body or face but not found in both sides. Before the rash occurs, there may be tingling or local pain in the area. Other common symptoms include: fever, headache, or fatigue. The rash and pain usually heals within two to four weeks; however, in some patients, ongoing nerve pain can last for months or years, in a condition called postherpetic neuralgia. Early treatment of the disease can reduce the development of postherpetic neuralgia. 

Vicky Lambropoulos PA-S

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