Staying home from work can help prevent transmitting the virus that causes shingles to other people, including those at risk of serious complications.

Shingles is an infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), which also causes chickenpox. The infection causes a painful rash that typically develops on one side of the face or body.

You can’t spread shingles to others. But you can pass on VZV to people who have not had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine before.

Read on to learn if you can go to work with shingles, how to recover, and answers to other frequently asked questions.

To prevent spreading the virus, it’s best to stay home from work or school until the rash is no longer oozing fluid (weeping) and has completely dried and scabbed over.

You can pass on the virus to other people who have direct contact with fluid from the blisters or breathe in virus particles from the blisters.

Covering the rash can lower the chance of passing the virus on to others. You can cover the rash with loose-fitting clothes or a non-stick dressing such as a gauze bandage.

It’s especially important to avoid certain groups of people who are at risk of serious complications if they come in contact with the virus and develop chickenpox. These include:

  • pregnant people
  • people with a weakened immune system
  • babies less than 1 month old

A shingles rash generally takes 7–10 days to crust over and completely dry out. However, the contagious period of shingles may last 2–4 weeks.

If the rash appears on your face, wait until it has completely scabbed over before returning to work.

If the rash appears in an area you can cover, you could return to work once you feel better. However, it may depend on where you work and what type of industry you work in.

The best approach to prevent spreading the virus is to avoid returning to work until the rash is no longer oozing fluid and completely dry.

Speak with your employer if you’re concerned about taking time off from work.

The main symptoms of shingles are pain, itching, or tingling in the area where the rash develops. This can occur several days before the rash appears.

Some people with shingles also experience:

  • headaches
  • chills
  • upset stomach
  • fever

It may be helpful to rest if you experience any of these symptoms.

If your main symptoms are pain and itching, you may find relief by:

  • taking over-the-counter pain medications
  • wearing loose-fitting clothing
  • keeping the rash clean and dry
  • using a wet compress, calamine lotion, or warm oatmeal baths to relieve itching

The contagious period of shingles may last up to 2–4 weeks. Typically, it lasts around 7–10 days. This can vary from person to person.

If you have shingles, you’re contagious as long as the rash or blisters are oozing fluid. You’re no longer contagious when all of the blisters have dried out and formed scabs.

If you have shingles, avoid the following activities:

  • sharing utensils or towels with others
  • swimming
  • playing contact sports, such as football, soccer, or basketball
  • going to work or school if the rash is oozing fluid and can’t be covered

This will help prevent passing on the virus to others who have not had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine before.

Antiviral medications can help shorten the length and severity of the illness.

These medications include:

They’re most effective if you take them within 72 hours of the rash appearing. Contact a doctor as soon as possible if you suspect you may have shingles.

Shingles typically starts to improve in 2–4 weeks. After the rash clears up, some people have ongoing pain in the area where the rash appeared. This is called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). Older adults have a greater chance of developing PHN.

Typically, PHN will decrease over time. If you’re experiencing PHN, talk with a doctor.

It’s best to avoid work or school until shingles blisters fully dry out and stop oozing fluid.

Some people may choose to return to work if the rash appears in an area they can cover. Covering the rash can lower the risk of spreading the virus to others.

Speak with your employer if you have shingles and are concerned about taking time off from work.