Also known as herpes zoster, Shingles is a viral disease. Like chicken pox, it is a condition caused by the varicella-zoster virus. Shingles is marked by the appearance of painful skin rash with blisters in specific areas of the body. Typically the rash appears on the right or left side of the face or body in a wide, single stripe. A localized pain or tingling sensation is felt in the area 2 to 4 days prior to the occurrence of the rash. The rash may occur more severely in people with a poor immune function. It usually takes 2 to 4 weeks for the rash to heal. Shingles can also lead to loss of vision if the rash involves the eye. Some people also develop nerve pain which can linger on for months. People can get shingles at any age but it is more commonly found to affect individuals in their 60's and 70's.
How is Shingles Transmitted and How Contagious is it?
Once infected by the varicella-zoster virus, it stays in the person's nerve tissue for the rest of their life. The virus remains in an inactive state for most of this time. It can however get reactivated even years later if the immune system of the individual weakens and becomes unable to contain the virus any longer. This can then lead to the development of shingles in the person. This also puts people who are already stressed or sick on a higher risk of contracting shingles.
Wondering how contagious is Shingles and for how long is Shingles contagious? Actually Shingles itself is not a contagious disease and cannot spread to another person. However its causal organism, i.e. varicella-zoster virus, is contagious in nature. This implies that a person suffering from shingles can spread this virus and trigger the development of chicken pox in others. Persons affected with shingles can transmit the varicella-zoster virus more easily to the ones who have never suffered from chickenpox. This is because people who have already suffered from chickenpox generally have antibodies against this virus in their body and thus rarely get affected with shingles.
How Long is Shingles Contagious?
Usual length of Shingles outbreak is 1 to 2 months. Shingles result in open, oozing blisters on the body and any contact with such unscabbed blisters can result in the spread of the varicella-zoster virus. Even the people who have not suffered from chicken pox can easily get affected by the varicella-zoster virus and contract chicken pox by simply coming in contact with these oozing shingles blisters. Once crusty scabs form over these open blisters, they no longer remain infectious. Also, the virus does not spread if the blisters are kept well covered. Shingles rarely spread from coughing or sneezing since the nasal secretions and saliva of the infected person do not trigger the spread of the virus.
How Long Does the Shingles Pain Last?
In Shingles, the varicella-zoster virus travels along a nerve route or path to the skin causing strange sensations and pain. The infected person may experience a tingling or burning sensation on their skin before the blisters or rashes appear. Sensitivity to touch and itching are also common symptoms of shingles. Discomfort and pain are commonly felt for a short period, before recovering completely, by people suffering from shingles.
Although Shingles outbreaks are temporary and generally clear up within a month, its effects on the health and general well-being of the individual are long lasting. Certain individuals can develop a persistent and ongoing nerve pain which can linger for months or even years. This condition is known as postherpetic neuralgia.
Shingles pain is generally longer lasting and more persistent in older adults and affects them more severely. Younger people usually display no signs of the disease once the blisters go away. Only one episode of shingles is experienced by people in their entire lifetime.
People suffering from chicken pox are more likely to transmit the varicella-zoster virus than ones suffering from shingles. Varicella-zoster virus can spread right from the time that the symptoms start appearing until the blisters and rashes get crusted dry. Shingles pain differs in its degree of severity and is generally difficult to treat with over-the-counter pain medications. The doctors may prescribe steroids or antidepressants to some people in order to relieve the nerve pain. With the advent of medical science, chicken pox and shingles vaccines have been developed to ensure that fewer people get affected by these diseases in future.