Questions & Answers
Shingles - The Disease
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Rate and Spread

  1. How common is shingles in the United States?
    In the United States about 300,000 to 600,000 people suffer from shingles each year, and the incidence is expected to increase as the population ages. Because it is so easy to catch chickenpox, almost every adult in the United States has been infected. Anyone who has been affected by chickenpox could develop shingles, though not all will. About 50 percent of those who live to age 85 will get the disease.

  2. How is shingles spread from one person to another?
    People who have had a case of the chickenpox or who have been vaccinated for chickenpox cannot "catch" shingles from an infected person. However, people who have never had a case of chickenpox or have never been vaccinated for chickenpox, may be infected if exposed to a person with active shingles leading to a case of chickenpox. You must have had chickenpox to develop shingles so it is not possible to pass shingles from person to person. Varicella-zoster may be spread by direct contact with the lesions or with infected material.

  3. How long does it take to develop symptoms of shingles?
    The varicella virus may lie dormant for years or decades in the nerve root and reactivate when the immune system becomes weakened by age or disease.

  4. How long does an outbreak of shingles last?
    The rash begins with reddish bumps. In a few days, these bumps turn into fluid filled blisters, crust over and dry out after 7 to 10 days. Even though the rash gets better or goes away in a few weeks, the pain may last longer. In most people, the pain goes away in 1 to 3 months.

  5. How long is a person with shingles contagious?
    A person exposed to a patient with shingles will not get shingles but may get chickenpox. The virus is present at the site of the rash and is contagious for a week after the appearance of lesions (blisters). A person is not infectious before blisters appear or when suffering from PHN.

  6. Can you get shingles more than once?
    Shingles is caused by a reactivation of the dormant virus in the nerves of people who have previously had chickenpox. As a result shingles can unfortunately occur more than once. People have further attacks of shingles, especially at times when they feel run down. These attacks may affect a different part of the body.