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Is it Safe to Travel with Shingles?

By Rita Kennedy ; Updated December 05, 2018

Caused by the chicken pox virus, an outbreak of shingles poses some serious questions about whether to continue with any planned travel. This potentially painful condition can develop quickly, and doctors do not fully understand why remnants of the chickenpox virus in your body suddenly became active again as shingles. Whether it’s advisable for you to travel with shingles will depend on the journey you’re undertaking and your general health, along with the severity of your symptoms.

Treatment

Prompt medical treatment, ideally before the rash develops, can make a shingles outbreak both shorter and less severe; if you think you may have shingles it would be wise to remain within reach of your doctor. Your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medicine like famciclovir or valacyclovir to fight the virus, while you can also take pain killers to reduce any discomfort. The availability of medications can vary significantly outside the United States.

Complications

You might want to reconsider your travel plans if you are concerned about complications. The most common shingles complication is pain in the area where the rash developed. Pain levels can be quite severe and you may prefer to be at home and able to consult your doctor during this stage. Patients over the age of 60 — 50 percent of recorded cases fall in this age group — are much more likely to suffer severe pain from shingles.

Health of Others

During the time before your shingles rash develops a crust, you are potentially infectious and could transmit the virus to the people with whom you are traveling. Although the chance of infection is small, think carefully about exposing others to infection. For example, if you will be traveling by car with people you know have already had chicken pox or been inoculated against it, the risk of infecting one of your companions is virtually nil. Alternatively, if you intend to travel by air, you could be spending time in close proximity to potentially vulnerable individuals, such as unvaccinated pregnant women, babies and people with compromised immune systems. In this case, your travel would put fellow travelers at risk.

Vaccination

The best way to reduce the chance of developing shingles abroad is to be vaccinated against the virus before you travel -- the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that this take place as part of the pretravel check-up for all travelers 60 and older planning a trip abroad. This vaccination reduces your chance of developing shingles by around one-half and reduces by two-thirds the chance of experiencing severe pain afterward.

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