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Q.

Is the zoster virus contagious? Should I avoid contact with my one-year-old grandson while I have zoster?

 

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A.

You are right that zoster, or shingles, is caused by a virus. Luckily, most people either have been vaccinated against this virus or are already infected. Varicella zoster causes both chicken pox and shingles. When you first become infected, you have the symptoms of chicken pox. Shingles, which usually occurs later in life, is a reactivation of the same virus, not a new transmission. You cannot “catch” shingles, but a person who has not had chicken pox can catch chicken pox from a person with shingles.

You can give other people the virus, but only if they come into contact with your open sores. Wash your hands frequently, and try covering your skin rash with a gauze bandage when you will be around people who have not been infected.

Many children are vaccinated against chicken pox when they are about one year old. Talk to your grandson’s parents about whether or not he has been vaccinated. Before vaccination became common, some parents actually tried to expose their children to chicken pox so that they could avoid complications from having chicken pox as adolescents or adults.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the chicken pox vaccine (followed by a booster) be given to children at 12 to 15 months old, and to healthy people over 13 who have never had chicken pox. The CDC also recommends a shingles vaccine for healthy people over 60.

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