Herpes zoster is a painful rash that occurs along one or more dermatomes. Zoster is caused by reactivation of latent varicella zoster virus infection from a prior chickenpox infection. People who have had a prior infection with varicella zoster virus (chickenpox) are at risk of shingles.
Ask the Experts: Zoster (Shingles): Disease Issues
During their lifetime about 30% of Americans will develop herpes zoster, which translates into an estimated 1 million cases each year in this country. The risk of zoster increases with increasing age; about half of all cases occur among people age 60 years or older. People who are immunosuppressed, including those with leukemia, lymphoma, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, and people who receive immunosuppressive drugs, such as steroids and cancer chemotherapy, also are at greater risk of zoster. Most people have only one episode of shingles. The risk of recurrence is low in people who are not immunosuppressed, but the precise incidence is unknown.
Zoster is caused by reactivation of a latent varicella virus infection (from having chickenpox in the past). Zoster is not passed from one person to another through exposure to another person with zoster. However, if a person who is susceptible to chickenpox (i.e., they had never had chickenpox and were not vaccinated against chickenpox) comes in direct contact with a person with a zoster rash, the virus could be transmitted to the susceptible person. The exposed person would develop chickenpox, not zoster. Covering the zoster rash reduces the chances of transmitting varicella zoster virus.
In a school setting, an immunocompetent person with zoster (staff or students) can remain at school as long as the lesions can be completely covered. People with zoster should be careful about personal hygiene, wash their hands after touching their lesions, and avoid close contact with others. If the lesions cannot be completely covered and close contact avoided, the person should be excluded from the school setting until the zoster lesions have crusted over. See www.cdc.gov/chickenpox/outbreaks/manual.html for more information. If your program is licensed by a state or county, you should check their regulations as well.
All healthcare personnel should ensure they are immune to varicella regardless of the setting in which they work. For healthcare personnel, accepted evidence of varicella immunity includes any of the following: 1) documentation of age-appropriate vaccination with a varicella vaccine, 2) laboratory evidence of immunity or laboratory confirmation of disease; 3) diagnosis or verification of a history of varicella disease by a healthcare provider; or 4) diagnosis or verification of a history of herpes zoster by a healthcare provider.