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Can You Still Go to Work if You Have Shingles?

Ask a Doctor

Last week I went to the doctor for painful rash symptoms on my face and chest, and she diagnosed me with shingles. I’ve already missed five days of work and I still have rashes that hurt my chest and torso, but the facial signs are mostly gone. I’d really like to save the rest of my sick days. Can you still go to work if you have shingles?

Doctor's Response

Shingles (herpes zoster) is a painful rash common in adults over age 50. Shingles cannot be passed from one person to another, but the varicella zoster virus that causes shingles also causes chickenpox, and the virus can spread and cause chickenpox in a person who has not had chickenpox before or not received the chickenpox vaccine.

Determining when it is safe for you to return to work depends on where your blisters are located, and the type of place where you work.

  • If the blisters are located on the face, you should not go back to work until they have crusted over (usually within 7 to 10 days).
  • If the blisters are located in an area you can cover with bandages or clothing you may get back to work as soon as you feel well enough to do so.
  • If you work in a healthcare facility, talk to your doctor about when it is safe for you to return to the workplace.

As mentioned earlier, shingles is not contagious (able to spread) in the sense that people who are exposed to a patient with shingles will not "catch shingles." Anyone who has already had chickenpox or has received the chickenpox vaccine, and is otherwise healthy, should be protected and at no risk when around a patient with shingles. However, people who have never had chickenpox and have not received the chickenpox vaccine are susceptible to infection by a patient with shingles. These susceptible people, if exposed to the shingles virus, will not develop shingles, but they could develop chickenpox and eventually shingles if the viruses reactivate in the nerves at a later date. Consequently, people consider the condition classified as fitting into disease categories that include both infectious diseases and neurological disorders.

Susceptible individuals include babies, young children, and unvaccinated individuals, so people with shingles are actually contagious for VZV infections in the form of chickenpox. Consequently, these individuals may get shingles at a later time in life, as can anyone who has had chickenpox. Covering the rash that occurs with shingles with a dressing or clothing helps decrease the risk of spreading the infection to others. Pregnant women are not unusually susceptible to shingles but if shingles develops near the end of pregnancy, the fetus may be harmed.

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Reviewed on 4/30/2019
References
Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD coauthored this article.

REFERENCES:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About Shingles (Herpes Zoster). 2018. 21 November 2018 .

Mary A Albrecht, MD. Patient education: Shingles (Beyond the Basics). 6 March 2018. 21 November 2018 .
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