Shingles – it’s not contagious, but you can catch the virus?


How does this even work?

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It’s caused by the chicken pox virus, so if you’ve had that you can get shingles at anytime depending on several factors including stress and your immune system.

It mostly affects older people, but I had it at 15.

Shingles and chicken pox are caused by the same virus: varicella zoster virus, or VZV for short.

The first time a person is infected with VZV, it causes chicken pox. You’re probably familiar with this disease. You only get chicken pox once, because your body fights off and then remembers VZV. But in the process, VZV also injects the genes to create more viruses into long-lived nerve cells, where those genes lie dormant for a long time (possibly for the rest of a person’s life).

But, for reasons that are not understood, those genes can sometimes become active later in life, years after the initial chicken pox infection. They produce VZV again, but because they produce it in a different place in the body and because immunity to VZV prevents it from spreading to the parts of the body that chicken pox originally did, it causes a different set of symptoms, which we call shingles.

People with shingles do shed the VZV virus. So if you haven’t had chicken pox before, you can catch VZV (and therefore chicken pox) from someone with shingles. But if you have had chicken pox before, your body catches and kills the virus. You can only get shingles from *your own* past chicken pox infection, because it relies on being reproduced by your own cells well inside your body’s defenses.

Shingles is not a virus. Shingles is one of the two known diseases caused by a particular virus.

If you get someone sick through your shingles, they will get chickenpox, not shingles. People only get shingles many years after they recover from chickenpox, and only some people ever get it.