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Shingles is a reactivation of the chickenpox virus (varicella-zoster virus). After having chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus retreats to nerve cells in the body, where it often lies dormant for many years. The varicella-zoster virus that causes chickenpox never leaves the body.

Certain factors, such as stress, aging, or low immunity, can reactivate the virus and it begins to reproduce. The virus travels along the path of a nerve (where the virus “slept”) to the skin’s surface and becomes visible as shingles. Early shingles symptoms can include headache, fever, and chills. However, the most noticeable symptoms are blisters and pain.

Shingles is not generally contagious but the varicella-zoster virus can spread to someone who has never had chickenpox. If a person hasn’t had chickenpox and comes in contact with the infected person’s blisters, they could develop chickenpox. The virus doesn’t spread after the blisters have formed crusty scabs. Once the blisters scab, they’re no longer contagious. The virus also doesn’t spread when the blisters are well-covered.

Should I Get A Shingles Vaccine?

The only way to reduce the risk of developing shingles and the long-term pain from post-herpetic neuralgia is to get vaccinated. The CDC recommends that people aged 60 years and older get a shingles vaccine. The shingles vaccine protects you from getting shingles by 50% and lowers the chance of getting post-herpetic neuralgia. 

Accommodating Employees with Shingles

The degree of limitation will vary among individuals. Be aware that not all people with shingles will need accommodations to perform their jobs and many others may only need a few accommodations. Staff with shingles should be able to continue to work in most areas if they feel well and the affected area can be adequately covered by clothing. However, it should be noted that shingles can vary from very mild with no pain or discomfort to extremely painful and debilitating, and staff may need to take time off to recover.

What are employers’ responsibilities?

Quite simply, for the employee with shingles, taking sick leave or, if possible, working from home is probably the optimum accommodation so that they can rest, and heal, more quickly.

In a purely adult, non-care setting, it may be useful for other team members who have had contact with the infected employee to be made aware. Colleagues who do not think that they have previously had chickenpox should be informed that they may develop the disease within 10 to 21 days. If they start to feel unwell within this time period it may be sensible to take time off as soon as symptoms begin (e.g. cold-like symptoms, high temperature) in order to reduce the risk of the disease spreading further.Note: Link to AskJAN for more information and publications regarding Shingles

Shingles and the Americans with Disabilities Act

The ADA does not contain a list of medical conditions that constitute disabilities. Instead, the ADA has a general definition of disability that each person must meet. A person has a disability if he/she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having an impairment. For more information about how to determine whether a person has a disability under the ADA, see How to Determine Whether a Person Has a Disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA).

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Oklahoma WorksOklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services, and Oklahoma ABLE Tech have collaborated to provide this information and advice to those seeking accommodation in the workplace.