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Ask the Medical Expert Archives 2000-2004

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May 2001

Q. I recently came down with shingles and am wondering how long they are contagious to the never-had-chicken-pox folks. I am being forced to stay home from work because of concern by management. Is this warranted?

A. Shingles is the reactivation of the chicken Pox virus (Herpes Varicella-Zoster). It is characterized by pain in a certain nerve distribution (most commonly on the trunk), followed by a painful blistery rash. The virus may be spread by the blisters (containing active virus). One is therefore contagious until all the blisters are crusted. This usually totals about 7 to 10 days.

Depending on what type of work you do, and who may be exposed to you, it may be appropriate to have to stay home until the blisters are crusted. Of course, any one who has never had chicken pox or the vaccine to chicken pox would be at risk of contracting infection from you. There are some antiviral drugs that can help shorten the duration of illness if begun early enough (within 3 days of onset of rash).

I hope you are feeling better.


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