Has anyone here ever had the joy of experiencing Shingles? I’m not talking about re-roofing your house. I’m talking about the wonderful painful, burning, itching sensation caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox. Well, for the last couple weeks, I have been getting a mild taste of it. And a mild taste is enough to make me feel really bad for people that get knocked out with it hard.
What It Is If you’ve had chicken pox, you have the Varicella zoster virus (VZV) lying dormant somewhere in your body, specifically in your trigeminal nerve and/or dorsal root ganglion. It is one of eightHerpes virusesthat affect humans. Well, for 10-20% of us lucky ducks that have had chicken pox (which is most of us in civilization), the VZV virus rears its ugly head again, causingHerpes zoster, otherwise known as Shingles.
The hallmark symptoms of this wonderful little critter are a painful, burning, itching rash of blisters that affects only one side of the body and pain in the affected nerve. For me, the rash runs on the right side of my body, from right next to my spine at shoulder blade height, around under my arm and onto the right side of my chest. The worst of it has been under my arm and on my chest. But the real fun of Shingles is that, since the virus infects the nerves, it can leave lingering pain in the nerves for a months. It can be so bad for some people that just a shirt brushing over it or a stiff wind sends pain shooting through their body.
Eventually, the blisters break open, oozing liquid full of the virus. At this point, it is possible to pass along chicken pox to someone that hasn’t had it before, like children. You cannot, however, pass along Shingles to anyone. Shingles isn’t contagious. Chicken pox is. Somehow I escaped this part and the blisters are just drying out and crusting over without oozing anything.
How Does It Reactivate How the virus stays dormant in the nerve cells is scientifically unknown. How it reactivates seems to be some combination of factors that compromise the immune system. For me, I’m assuming it was a combination of training very hard for this weekend’s track meet, sub-par diet while traveling (still better than most Americans, but sub-par for me), the stress of life events, the stress of trying to sell a house, and the combination of too little sleep and one or two drinks more than justone or two drinksdue to hanging out with old friends.
Other things that can cause VZV to wake up and say hello are certain cancers and contact with a chicken pox infected person, neither of which I think happened in my case, though I could be wrong about the chicken pox considering I did just spend plenty of time in airports and traveling. I guess when the virus comes in contact with someone that already has dormant VZV in their body, it can cause a reactivation of the virus and give this pleasurable experience.
The Onset About two weeks ago, I bought some new soap, a different kind than I had been using. The next day, I noticed a weird very slight sensitivity under my arm and on my chest. Another day later and it was stronger with a slight itch. I changed soaps back, thinking I was having some reaction to that. Then the first spots broke out under my arm, then on my back, then finally on my chest. By that point, I had kind of deduced what was going on considering that it was definitely affecting the nerves, as I judged by the sensation of the skin and coupled with the itching, I did some sleuthing. And once I was certain it was Shingles, I determinednotto be laid out with this for weeks like some people are. Frankly, it would take a broken leg to keep me out of that track meet this weekend.
And I’d Say I’m Lucky Here is a beautiful picture of the “belt” ofrashes that Shingles causesin some people. Mine is nowhere near that bad. In fact, mine is more like five areas of rashes that fall in a single line, not a belt like that. It’s mildly itchy and occasionally mildly burning, but nothing like what I read described online.
I’ve known one person that had this back in college. He was knocked out of work for 2 or 3 weeks. I’ve been working away, no one at work the wiser, and even continued training for the Bluegrass State Games, which I’ll be competing in this weekend. There’s been no shooting nerve pains as I’ve heard described. Which means I should be lucky enough to avoid thePostherpetic neuralgia. Really what I’ve had has been an irritation more than anything else. A constant low-level itch with occasional burning, especially now that the rash has started healing, typically after I sweat. It’s not even as bad as the rash of poison ivy I had up my arm last year, though not something I’d sign up for again either (unless the alternative was poison ivy).
The good news is that few people suffer more than three recurrences. But here’s hoping I don’t get it two more times to complete that trifecta.
Treatment Basically, short of taking antiviral drugs to stop the virus from replicating, the only course of action is to let it run its course and manage the symptoms. Since my symptoms have been mild, I didn’t seek out any prescriptions. I contactedDr. Smith, explained the situation to him, and he told me to take 1000mg of L-lysine three times per day. Beyond that, I started using vitamin E oil on the rash once it started itching as it seems to keep it moist enough to not itch/burn as much. Later, I read that vitamin E oil is a good treatment for it. A cold compress works well to keep the itching at bay as well, at least temporarily.
Lysine is an inhibitor of Herpes activity, whereas the amino acid arginine can promote Herpes growth. That means that arginine-rich foods are a no-no right now, which include chocolate, nuts, grains, and seeds. That also means that when traveling in the future, I’ll keep a watch on how many nuts I include in my diet as I tend to use them to keep my fat intake higher, a situation would possibly added to the above list of circumstances. Luckily, I already eat lots of lysine-rich foods in the form of meat and fish, along with fruits and vegetables.
As I mentioned, there are antiviral drugs that can be prescribed to stop the virus from being able to replicate and may shorten the duration. For the painful itchy rash, a capsaicin lotion is a regularly suggested over-the-counter treatment. Other suggested treatments are oral vitamins C and E, along with lysine cream. I haven’t used any of these treatments yet as it didn’t get that bad, but if it does, I’ll be off to find some.
As I mentioned above, it took a few days to figure out what was going on, but once I did, I made sure to keep myself on the dietary straight-and-narrow. I’m making sure to give my body every resource it can to fight this garbage off. I have no doubt that the fact that I do have a strong immune system, temporarily tainted by some abnormal circumstances, has kept this as a minor annoyance rather than a major life disturbance.