Shingles exposure precautions?
December 28, 2012 2:10 PM   Subscribe

Someone I was in contact with on Christmas has just been diagnosed with shingles. There was skin to skin contact, although I didn't notice any sores (but I wasn't looking for them). I'm concerned that I could transmit the virus to others - particularly some young children, elderly, and otherwise immunocompromised people I would be seeing at another family gathering tomorrow. Should I quarantine myself for a bit?

My search so far hasn't turned up anything about an exposed person transmitting the virus, but I'm not sure that means it's not possible. I would call my GP, but the office is closed until Monday. I did have chicken pox as a child, if that's relevant.
posted by youngergirl44 to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Shingles is contagious when you have the skin lesions, until the skin lesions crust over.

Remember, shingles is the same virus as chickenpox, which hides out in your nerve cells for the rest of your life after you have it. Shingles is contagious to people who have not had chickenpox or a vaccine (they would get chickenpox, rather than shingles). These days kids get a chickenpox vaccine and many old people get a shingles vaccine. So even if you did actually have shingles, it might not be as much of a concern as you'd think.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 2:16 PM on December 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

I don't think the fact that you were in contact with someone with Shingles makes any difference, as many people with a latent form of the virus (ie, they carry the virus but don't display the symptoms of chicken pox or shingles) can pass it on.

It's no big deal for kids to get chicken pox, and most adults are resistant to some degree.

I had chicken pox as a kid, and developed shingles at age 32. Luckily I recognized what it was and went to the hospital, and so suffered no lasting nerve damage.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:19 PM on December 28, 2012

You had chicken pox. Treat this as if you'd been around a child who had chickenpox. AFAIK, shingles is only communicable to people who have never had chicken pox, or who weren't vaccinated for it. You probably wouldn't be a carrier, since you aren't infected -- technically, almost everyone is infected and as immunity. The only risk factor is being around young children who haven't had chicken pox or been vaccinated (although it's still very unlikely that you'd be able to give it to them).
posted by DoubleLune at 2:21 PM on December 28, 2012

I had shingles in May of this year, and was hesitant to attend a family function where a baby would be present. A pediatrician acquaintance reassured me that it would be fine, provided I refrained from rubbing the baby on my blisters.
posted by little mouth at 2:25 PM on December 28, 2012 [7 favorites]

"Shingles cannot be passed from one person to another. However, the virus that causes shingles, the varicella zoster virus, can be spread from a person with active shingles to a person who has never had chickenpox. In such cases, the person exposed to the virus might develop chickenpox, but they would not develop shingles. The virus is spread through direct contact with fluid from the rash blisters, not through sneezing, coughing or casual contact." - CDC
posted by batmonkey at 2:29 PM on December 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

But people who have had chickenpox can still get shingles. That's why they give the shingles vaccine even to people over 60 who have had chickenpox.
posted by DMelanogaster at 6:48 PM on December 28, 2012

threehorn+bunny, DoubleLune, batmonkey and little mouth have the correct info..

You yourself, since you already had chicken pox, will not catch anything from the person with shingles that you were exposed to. If you did not get any of the "juice" from a blister smeared on your clothing or some other possession, you should not be able to infect anyone. If you want to be super cautious, make sure you wash the clothing you were wearing when you touched the person who had shingles in hot water, on the remote chance that the clothing might have touched the rash. This info. about cleaning up related to chickenpox may be of interest, though with shingles you really only need to worry about direct exposure to the fluid from the rash.

Also, chances are that the elderly people you will be seeing already had chickenpox, as most older people did, so they would not be able to catch anything anyway.

It seems like some people are misunderstanding the relationship between shingles and chickenpox. (Info. below is from this web page )

Shingles and chickenpox are both caused by a single virus of the herpes family, known as varicella-zoster virus (VZV). Varicella, or chickenpox, develops after an individual is exposed to VZV for the first time. Herpes zoster, or shingles, develops from reactivation of the virus later in life, usually many decades after chickenpox.

Most people get chickenpox from exposure to other people with chickenpox. It is most often spread through sneezing, coughing, and breathing. It is so contagious that few nonimmunized people escape this common disease when they are exposed to someone else with the disease.

When people with chickenpox cough or sneeze, they expel tiny droplets that carry the varicella virus. If a person who has never had chickenpox or never been vaccinated inhales these particles, the virus enters the lungs. From here it passes into the bloodstream. When it is carried to the skin it produces the typical rash of chickenpox.

People can also catch chickenpox from direct contact with a shingles rash if they have not been immunized by vaccination or by a previous bout of chickenpox. In such cases, transmission happens during the active phase when blisters have erupted but not formed dry crusts. A person with shingles cannot transmit the virus by breathing or coughing.

So, to sum up, someone with active chickenpox can transmit chickenpox to people who have never had chickenpox or have never had the chickenpox vaccine. Someone with shingles can also transmit chickenpox by direct contact with the rash to people who have never had chickenpox or have never had the chickenpox vaccine (when I was 16, it was my bad luck to get chickenpox from my sister's active shingles rash). If you have already had chickenpox or been vaccinated for chickenpox, you cannot catch anything from anyone who has chickenpox or from anyone who has shingles. (There are of course very rare cases of people catching chickenpox more than once, but this is pretty rare).

In reality, no one "catches" shingles, shingles develops in people who have already had chickenpox at some point in their lives, and then the virus, which is lurking dormant in your body in nerves, reactivates. The shingles vaccine helps stimulate your immune system to battle disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus, reducing the risk of getting shingles in people aged 50 and older. In scientific studies, the shingles vaccine reduces the risk of developing shingles by about 50% (source:
posted by gudrun at 9:10 PM on December 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Most upstream people have it all laid out for you, but as a personal experience my husband had it, and we just weren't able to quarantine him from our small kids, one of whom was too small to have yet had the chicken pox vaccine. Both his GP and our kids' pediatrician said it was fine, as long as he wore a shirt. So we avoided rubbing the baby in the shingles, and all was good.

If you actually had shingles, I'd be like "wear a shirt, yo" but since you only got exposed to it and don't have any actual shingles rash, you're totally fine.
posted by kpht at 8:48 AM on December 29, 2012

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