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How Do You Get Shingles?

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a virus that causes a blister-like rash on one side of the body. It often occurs in people who have been infected with varicella zoster, which is chickenpox. In some cases shingles can lead to post-herpetic neuralgia, which is pain persisting after the skin blisters have gone away. This article will discuss how do you get shingles and provide some tips for preventing it from happening again.

How do you get shingles

It is estimated that approximately one in ten people will develop shingles during their lifetime. The disease can be passed from person to person, but this requires intimate contact and the virus cannot survive outside of the body for more than a few seconds at most.

Shingles occurs when your immune system becomes compromised, either by illness or old age. In about half of cases it appears as a result of having been infected with chickenpox earlier on in life. Shingles does not harm children who have had varicella zoster unless they are very young, pregnant or immunocompromised (which includes those suffering from HIV/AIDS).

Signs and symptoms  of shingles

The first symptom of shingles is often a tingling, burning or itching sensation in the area where the rash will later develop. This can happen up to several days before any blisters appear. The rash typically appears as clusters of tiny, red bumps that turn into fluid-filled blisters within a day or two. It usually affects just one side of the body and is most commonly seen on the chest, back or abdomen. Other symptoms may include fever, headache and fatigue.

Find out more about how long does shingles last.

How to treat shingles

anti viral drugs

There is no known cure for shingles, but it can be treated with prescription antiviral drugs such as famciclovir, acyclovir, or valacyclovir. These medications can reduce the length of time that  blisters are likely to be present. They also help to ease pain, although this may persist for several weeks or months after all visible signs of the rash have gone away.

People who develop a secondary bacterial infection as a result of their shingles often require antibiotics in order to clear it up. This is why your doctor will likely prescribe an antibiotic alongside antiviral medication if you start suffering from shingles symptoms.

In some cases, corticosteroids such as prednisolone (Pred Forte) and dexamethasone (Decadron) might be prescribed instead of antiviral drugs depending on  the person’s individual situation.

Preventing shingles from happening again

There is no foolproof way to prevent shingles from occurring, but some things you can do to reduce your risk include:

  • Get vaccinated against chickenpox if you have not had it already. The vaccine (Varivax) is given as a single injection and is very effective in preventing the disease. It is recommended for all children aged 12 months or older and for adults who have never had chickenpox or received the vaccine before.
  • If you are over 60 years of age, ask your doctor about getting vaccinated (Shingrix). This vaccine is also very effective in preventing the disease and is licensed for use in  people aged 50 and older.
  • Take good care of your health by eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep. This will help to keep your immune system in good shape and reduce your risk of developing shingles.
  • If you are experiencing stress or emotional problems, try to find ways to manage them effectively. Stress can weaken the immune system and make you more susceptible to infection.

Is shingles contagious?

It is not contagious, but the virus which causes it certainly is.  It’s also possible to prevent getting shingles again by boosting your immune system with a healthy diet and lifestyle.

How to prevent shingles from spreading:

  • Cover the rash
  • Avoid touching or scratching the rash
  • Avoid contact with people until your rash turns into crusts

Risk factors 

Aside from advanced age, the following factors makes someone more susceptible to developing shingles:

  • pregnant women, especially those who never had chickenpox or the vaccine against it
  • newborn infants, especially premature and low birth weight ones
  • people receiving immunosuppressive medications 
  • people undergoing chemotherapy
  • people infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
  • organ transplant recipients
  • people with chronic stress
  • people suffering from trauma

What are some tips for preventing yourself from getting shingles?

One way may be taking zinc supplements daily which helps strengthen  your immune system. Additionally, try to eat a balanced diet and get plenty of exercise; both of these will help boost your immunity. Finally, make sure you’re taking care of yourself emotionally and avoid stress when possible. It’s not always easy, but it is important!

Another way to prevent yourself from getting shingles is by getting vaccinated.  If you are over 60 years of age, ask your doctor about getting the Shingrix vaccine, which is very effective in preventing the disease and is licensed for use in  people aged 50 and older.

Complications from shingles

The most frequent complication caused by shingles is postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), or long-term nerve pain.  PHN can persist for months or even years after the shingles rash goes away. Other complications include:

  • Scarring
  • Eye problems, such as corneal ulcers and blindness
  • Hearing loss
  • Skin infections around the blisters
  • Central nervous system problems, including encephalitis (an infection that causes inflammation of the brain) and meningitis (inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord)

Preventing shingles from spreading is key to keeping you and others safe. If you are unfortunate enough to contract this virus, taking some preventative steps will help ease your pain and speed up your healing process.


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