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Is Shingles Contagious?

Expert Q&A

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Updated February 05, 2005

Q. I wondered whether you could help, since despite internet searches, I can't seem to find out the answer to this question. My mom has a current herpes zoster infection (shingles) on her back, with vesicles that are about 3days old. I have a 2 year old, and we are visiting her for 10 days. Additionally, my nephew (1month old) is visiting. I would like to know, whether, since the virus is the same as the chickenpox virus, the children are at risk of contracting chickenpox? Neither of the children has had the chickenpox vaccine. Simone, Jersey, Channel Islands

A. According to the CDC, 'yes, people with shingles are contagious to persons who have not had chickenpox. Therefore, people who have not had chickenpox can catch chickenpox if they have close contact with a person who has shingles. However, you can not catch shingles itself from someone else. Shingles is caused by the chickenpox virus which has been dormant (staying quiet) in your body ever since you had chickenpox. So, you get shingles from your own chickenpox virus, not from someone else.'

In general, if you can keep all of the zoster lesions well covered, then the children won't have direct contact with them and shouldn't be at much risk. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that 'lesions that are covered appear to pose little risk to susceptible individuals.'

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