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by Katy Bergen

December 27, 2019

When it comes to shingles, precautions shouldn't be limited to the pool

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one out of three adults in the United States will experience shingles in their lifetime. That's nearly 1 million people a year.

Known also as herpes zoster, the virus causes painful rashes of blisters that usually develop on one side of the body. Sometimes the rash is accompanied by fever, headache, or chills.

The condition is treated with antiviral medications, and those who think they have the virus should contact a doctor right away.

"They should see a doctor and get diagnosed," says Stephen Soloway, a New Jersey-based doctor who specializes in rheumatology. "If they are positive for shingles, they will be prescribed Valtrex."

But what does a shingles diagnosis mean for a swimmer who is concerned about transmitting the virus?

It's direct contact with the fluid from these blisters that can spread shingles, or cause chicken pox to develop in a person who has never had chicken pox.

That means that individuals are infectious until the rash blisters they are experiencing dry and crust over. In most cases, that could take anywhere from seven to 10 days, with two to four weeks being the average time the virus takes to fully clear.

Swimmers will want to steer clear of the pool while they are in a blister phase. That goes for any kind of communal pool, including hot tubs and public showers.

"You can swim when blisters are dry," Soloway says.

Precautions shouldn't be limited to the pool. Those with the active virus should cover their rashes at home and at work until they crust over. You'll know your blisters have dried out when they become yellowish in color, flatten out, and stop oozing.

Although shingles is no longer contagious once the blisters have dried and is not infectious until they appear, visible lesions should still be covered with watertight bandages. You should not share towels, kickboards, or other pool equipment with someone who has been recently infected, and avoiding equipment sharing is a good strategy to avoid contracting the virus in the first place.

But the best way to avoid shingles is to be even more proactive.

"A shingles vaccine is now available, and I suggest people get the vaccine to protect themselves from the virus," Soloway says.

Although shingles is not typically life-threatening for the average person, newborns, pregnant women, elderly individuals, and others with weak immune systems should be especially avoided if you have shingles.


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