According to the CDC, one in three people in the US will develop shingles in their lifetime.¹
People with a shingles diagnosis may wonder if they can swim while they still have symptoms. Perhaps they want to continue their hobby or believe salty or chlorinated water may help.
This article explores the following questions: “Can you swim with shingles?” and “Is shingles contagious in swimming pools?”
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Shingles is a viral infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). This virus is also responsible for causing chickenpox.
The VZ remains in the nervous system even after you have recovered from chickenpox. It can reactivate and cause shingles later in life.
You may be more likely to develop shingles if
Your immune system is weakened due to a medical condition (like cancer or HIV) or certain medications and treatments
You are under immense stress (while shingles doesn’t cause stress, it can weaken the immune system, increasing the risks of an outbreak)
You take drugs to suppress your immune system after an organ transplant, like steroids
You previously had chickenpox (you are more likely to develop shingles in this case)
You are an older adult
Shingles isn’t contagious, but the blisters that appear on your skin can be. Direct contact with the fluid from the shingles blister rash can spread the varicella-zoster virus to people who have never had a chickenpox vaccine or contracted chickenpox.²
This is a clear indication that you should avoid possible points of contact, such as swimming.
The risk of spreading the VZV to others and causing shingles is low if you cover the shingles rash.
You’re less likely to be covered when swimming in a pool, so the risk of spreading the virus will be higher.
Avoid swimming in the sea or a lake if you can’t ensure you will be alone.
It is not a good idea to go swimming in public places if you have shingles, whether that’s in a pool or natural body of water.
Shingles can spread in a pool, tub, or water park, even if the water is chlorinated.
Chlorine disinfects the water by attacking organic and inorganic compounds. However, while it kills bacteria effectively, chlorine doesn’t kill viruses such as the VZV. As a result, it cannot kill shingles.
Shingles blisters tend to dry out with time. They are no longer contagious when this happens.³
The blisters usually take 7–10 days to completely dry out after symptoms first develop.⁴
You can start swimming again when the blisters dry out completely. However, you may still need to practice precautions, such as:
Avoid sharing personal items, like towels
Ensure all blisters have dried out completely
Isolate from pregnant people, newborns, older adults, and people who are immunocompromised
You can be active and go outside if you have shingles as long as you cover the rash at all times.
Ensure you follow the precautions above and avoid contact with people who haven’t yet had chickenpox or received the chickenpox vaccination.
If you cannot cover your shingles rash, it may be best to stay at home and rest until you are no longer contagious.
Although shingles has no cure, doctors can prescribe antiviral medication to reduce symptoms and the duration of the virus.
Antiviral medication isn’t the only treatment option for shingles.
Other treatments include the following:
Healing baths. A cool bath can ease your pain and calm itchiness. Additionally, soaking in a healing bath (lukewarm water plus 1–2 cups of oatmeal or cornstarch) can reduce shingles symptoms.
Soothing lotions and creams. The temptation to scratch can worsen the rash, causing scarring and prolonged blisters. If a cold bath doesn’t relieve itching, you can use soothing lotions and creams sparingly. Look for an effective product that contains capsaicin — an active ingredient in chili peppers with an anti-inflammatory effect. This can ease pain and speed up healing.
Homeopathic/herbal remedies. Homeopathic medicine may help your body fight the virus or the symptoms and reduce healing time. However, there is still little to no scientific evidence to confirm this, so ensure you talk to your doctor first.
The best way to prevent shingles is getting vaccinated. Shingrix is the current shingles vaccine, and it’s over 90% effective.⁵
People aged 50 years and over should get the shingles vaccine to prevent the condition from occurring. Children can get the chickenpox vaccine to prevent the varicella virus from reactivating as shingles later on.
Stress management can also help prevent shingles since stress triggers the condition.⁶
To prevent spreading shingles to others, ensure you cover all the areas of your skin that are affected by the shingles rash. This is especially important when around people who have never received a chickenpox or shingles vaccine. You should also avoid sharing towels, clothes, and other personal items that are likely to increase the risk of contagion.
If you’ve been diagnosed with shingles, you’re advised to take steps to avoid spreading it to others. Shingles isn’t contagious, but the blisters resulting from shingles can be.
If you have shingles, avoid swimming in public pools or natural bodies of water used by other people. This is especially important if you haven’t covered your rash. While covering your blisters may be a good safety measure, it isn’t entirely effective.
The best way to prevent shingles is to get the shingles vaccine. Ask your doctor whether it’s suitable for you.
Your rash should take about 7–10 days to dry out after the first symptoms appear. After the rash blisters dry out, you can consider swimming again.
Besides prevention, you can also try some shingles treatments such as healing baths, soothing creams and lotions, and homeopathic remedies. Talk to your doctor before you consider any treatment for your shingles.
No. Avoid swimming in public or communal places unless you can guarantee you’re alone.
You can return to swimming after your rash has completely dried out. Even then, you can take extra precautions, including avoiding contact with vulnerable people.
Chlorine kills bacteria; it does not kill viruses. Therefore, you could still pass shingles onto someone else when you swim in chlorinated water.
Swimming in chlorinated water won’t help your shingles — it could irritate your skin instead.
Yes, you can — provided you’re alone at the time.
Shingles burden and trends | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Transmission | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Shingles | National Institute on Aging