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The Informed Parent

Questions & Answers: Shingles

by Louis P. Theriot, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Jan. 01, 2000

Question: I have a three year old daughter. The woman who watches her while my husband and I are at work is 71 years old. She is in good health, but has a case of shingles on her back. The shingles is covered by her clothes. Can she give my daughter chicken pox or shingles?

Answer: Since your daughter is three years old, she hopefully has received the chicken pox vaccine. If so, then you have nothing to worry about because she should be fully protected.

This is because shingles is a reactivation of the chicken pox virus. After a person recovers from a case of chicken pox, the virus may lay dormant in the nerve roots of the body. At some future point in time, the virus may become "reactivated" along the area served by that particular nerve resulting in shingles. No one knows what the triggering factor is, and it is impossible to predict who will get shingles, or when. Shingles causes a strip, or cluster, of crusty blisters on a reddened base. They occur along the area of skin that is served by the involved nerve. As a result, they are confined to one side of the body, and do not cross over the mid-line. They can occur anywhere on the body: face, trunk or extremities.

The blisters of shingles can itch, cause a burning sensation, or can be painful. They dry up and crust within 7-10 days, much like the lesions of chicken pox. There is usually no fever or other symptoms associated with shingles.

There is active virus within the crusty lesions of shingles. Unlike chicken pox, where the virus is spread through the respiratory tract by sneezing and coughing, shingles can only spread the virus if one comes in direct contact with the lesions themselves. Once they have crusted over, they are no longer contagious.

If your caregiver's shingles are, in fact, on a part of the body that is covered by clothes, she poses no threat to your daughter or anybody else. If your daughter has already had chicken pox, or has received the vaccine, then she should be adequately protected. If she has NOT received the vaccine, you should discuss this with her doctor.

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