Virus FAQs

Q: I was diagnosed with shingles. Am I contagious?

A: Shingles, or herpes zoster, is an internal reactivation of the chickenpox virus. It occurs in persons who have already had chickenpox. Unlike chickenpox, which is spread by a respiratory route, herpes zoster can be spread by direct contact with an affected area. It is impossible to "catch" shingles from someone, but a person who has never had chickenpox can develop it by coming into contact with a person afflicted with shingles.

Q: Ever since I was diagnosed with genital herpes, I have been getting outbreaks once or twice a month. What can I do about this?

A: The number of cases of genital infection with herpes simplex has increased tremendously over the past few decades. It is estimated that more than 25 million Americans are infected with genital herpes. After primary infection, recurrences are common and vary from once every few years to biweekly. For those with frequent outbreaks, oral antiviral medication can be taken to suppress recurrence. Typically, a pill is taken once or twice a day. Fortunately, outbreaks occur less frequently over time.

Q: My doctor told me that my son has a viral rash, but he didn't know what virus caused it. How can that be?

A: Some viruses result in rashes with specific characteristics (e.g., chickenpox), but others are not easy to identify. Viral infections commonly cause rashes, especially in children, and eruptions usually resolve after the immune system clears the virus. After the rash is gone, some skin peeling may occur.

Q: I was told I have pityriasis rosea. What is it?

A: Pityriasis rosea is a fairly common skin rash that erupts mainly on the torso and upper extremities. The lesions are typically pink and oval with slight overlying scale. It usually is not itchy. A viral origin has long been suspected, and there is recent evidence that human herpesvirus 7 (HHV-7) may be the cause. It typically resolves in 6 to 12 weeks without scarring, and recurrences are rare.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 31 Aug 2000

Last Modified: 15 Mar 2016