Is shingles contagious? Shingles risk during pregnancy, transmission, and prevention

By: Dr. Victor Marchione | General Health | Tuesday, April 26, 2016 - 12:00 PM

Is shingles contagiousShingles is only contagious to individuals who had not been vaccinated or to people who have never had the chickenpox. At-risk groups that can develop chickenpox as a result of exposure to shingles are infants, young children, and individuals who are not vaccinated. Generally, pregnant women are not at risk to develop shingles, but if they do develop shingles near the end of their pregnancy term, it can pose harm to the fetus.

When is shingles contagious?

After a few days of shingles symptoms, when the patient develops a rash that begins to blister, that is when the virus is being shed and is most contagious. Shingles has two stages: prodormal and active. In the prodormal stagen a patient experiences symptoms of shingles without a rash. The active stage is marked by the presence of the rash.

Shingles risk during pregnancy

Developing shingles during pregnancy is generally harmless and mild, and does not pose a risk to the mother or fetus. A pregnant woman can catch shingles from someone who has it, if she has never had chickenpox or has not been vaccinated.

Symptoms of shingles during pregnancy include burning or shooting pain, as well as tingling or itching typically on one side of the face. Pain can range in severity and may be accompanied by fever, chills, nausea, diarrhea, and difficulty urinating. A rash will eventually develop, with the bumps that begin to fill with fluid, blister, and crust off within a week’s time.

Shingles treatment during pregnancy includes antiviral medications, cold compresses to reduce itching, wearing loose clothing and covering rashes with gauze, antihistamines, and over-the-counter painkillers.

Complications of shingles include damage to the eyes and vision, hearing and balance problems, and even the risk of meningitis or stroke if shingles spreads to the brain.

Overall, the risk of a pregnant woman developing shingles is quite low. If you are concerned about your risk of contracting shingles, speak to your doctor about vaccination options. As long as shingles is caught early on, you can avoid any complications.

How is shingles transmitted?

Shingles is only contagious to individuals who are not vaccinated or who never had the chickenpox, and so they will develop the chickenpox and not shingles. Shingles can be transmitted during the blister phase, and a patient is not infectious prior to the blister phase. Overall, shingles is far less contagious than chickenpox.

If you have shingles, avoiding transmission is as easy as keeping the rash covered, avoiding contact with the rash, washing your hands often, and avoiding contact with pregnant women, babies and children, individuals with a weakened immune system, and the elderly.

Shingles prevention and treatment

The simplest way to prevent shingles is getting the shingles vaccine, which is recommended for individuals 60 and older. Treatment of shingles is best done with antiviral medication, which is most effective for reducing the duration and symptoms of shingles if caught in the early stages of infection.

Speak to your doctor right away if you begin to experience symptoms related to shingles prior to the presence of a rash.

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