The virus that causes chickenpox is known as the varicella zoster virus (VZV). What happens is, after a person is infected by chickenpox, the causal virus stays in dormancy, probable for several years. To put in other words, the virus remains inactive and hides in the nerve tissue near the spinal cord and brain. After several years, this very virus may break its dormancy and get reactivated, eventually causing what is known as shingles, also known as herpes zoster. This outbreak is more common in people with a weak immune system, newborns, and expecting mothers. Although this infection is not considered to be a life-threatening one, it does cause painful symptoms.
Shingles in Adults and Children
To understand how contagious is shingles, you must first know about how shingles is caused in the first place. This disease is known to affect mostly older adults, who have had chickenpox, probably during their childhood. So what is understood from this statement and what has been described above, that people who have suffered from chickenpox earlier in their lives, are the ones who run the risk of contracting shingles. We can regard this disease to be caused by the reinfection with the varicella zoster virus.
Is Shingles Contagious?
The answer could be a 'Yes' or a 'No'. This is due to the nature of this condition. A person who is affected by shingles can only pass the virus to others, who has never been affected by chickenpox or has not taken any chickenpox vaccine. The virus may be passed on with direct contact with the fluid secreted by the blisters formed. And these people would actually develop chickenpox, however, not shingles. Only people who have had chickenpox are the ones who can develop shingles later in their lives. So technically, an affected person cannot transmit the shingles virus to others. So if you are wondering 'is shingles contagious to pregnant women', then the answer must be a 'No'.
So to summarize, people who have never been affected by chickenpox or never taken chickenpox vaccine, can contract the virus from a shingles affected person. However, they would develop chickenpox and not shingles itself. But later in their lives, they may develop shingles, when the dormant virus becomes active again.
Symptoms of Shingles
Shingles affects a small section of only side of the body giving rise to symptoms such as red rash that follows pain, and burning sensation in the affected area. The pain may be accompanied by a tingling or a numbing sensation. Fluid-filled blisters may develop, accompanied by itching. In some people, headache, fever, body ache, and fatigue may also crop up.
Shingles has no cure because once the varicella zoster virus infects the body, it stays there for life. However, it is known to be a self-healing ailment, and resolves within a few weeks. However, to hasten recovery, and reduce the risk of secondary complications, an antiviral medications could be prescribed. These medications work better when administered soon after the symptoms occur. To deal with severe pain, drugs such as anticonvulsants, tricyclic antidepressants and numbing agents may be prescribed too.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for educating the reader only and should not be considered as a replacement for an expert medical advice.