Chickenpox and shingles
What is chicken pox?
Symptoms of chicken pox
Managing chicken pox
What is chicken pox / shingles?
Chicken pox (herpes zoster, shingles, zoster, zona, varicella zoster) is a highly contagious viral disease. Most people are infected as children; however, if it is contracted as an adult it is more serious, and especially if pregnant (see a doctor).
Note: Herpes zoster is NOT the same disease as herpes simplex despite the name similarity.
After an episode of chickenpox has resolved the virus is not eliminated from the body. Years or decades after the initial infection it can occasionally go on to cause shingles, an illness with very different symptoms (such as a painful rash). Although the rash usually heals within two to four weeks, some sufferers experience residual nerve pain for months or years, a condition called postherpetic neuralgia.
Most adults are infected with the varicella zoster virus. In those with a healthy immune system, the virus remains latent / dormant in the body. Increasing age, and a compromised or weak immune system seem to be the greatest risk factors for severe symptoms or an outbreak of shingles years after the initial infection, as the virus comes out of remission.
Worldwide, the incidence of herpes zoster ranges from 1.2 to 3.4 cases per 1,000 healthy individuals each year, increasing to 3.9 to 11.8 among those older than 65 years.
The infected person is extremely contagious after the rash appears, and until their rash has developed crusts.
Symptoms of chicken pox
In children the symptoms tend to be mild, whereas in adults the symptoms can be more painful and severe, and longer lasting.
Between one and three weeks after contact with the source of infection, a child may have a headache, mild fever and malaise.
Next may come sensations of burning pain, itching, tingling, pricking, stinging, numbness, over-sensitivity or "pins and needles".
In most cases after 1-2 days, but sometimes after as long as 3 weeks, the above symptoms are followed by the appearance of the characteristic skin rash. The pain and rash most commonly occurs on the torso, but can appear on the face, eyes or other parts of the body. The rash appears in a characteristic strip or belt-like pattern. Initially the rash is similar to hives, but then itchy or painful blisters develop that crust over after 7-10 days. Usually the crusts fall off and the skin heals, but scarring can occur.
The rash and pain usually subside within 3-5 weeks, but in a few cases much longer.
In 10-25% of cases, the eye can be infected. Rarely, other symptoms include conjunctivitis, keratitis, uveitis, and optic nerve palsies that can sometimes cause chronic ocular inflammation, loss of vision, and debilitating pain. If the ear is infected, this can cause loss of hearing or vertigo.
Shingles is a painful, red, sometimes spotty rash.
Managing chicken pox
- Keep to an alkaline diet with plenty of raw sour fruits, lemon juice with water, and vegetable juice.
- Stay in a well-ventilated room.
- Bath every day in lukewarm water to relieve itching.
- Wear light, loose, clothing. Preferably cotton, avoid wool.
- Cut children's nails short to reduce scratching.
- Wear cotton gloves at night to prevent scratching during sleep.
See a doctor if: There is any chance of pregnancy; pus filled spots or blisters develop near the eyes; there are convulsions, breathing problems, headache or earache.
Vitamin D. The most important remedy for shingles is vitamin D sufficiency. People with shingles are three times more likely to be vitamin D deficient than the general population. Get out in the sunshine. The advice to avoid sun is one of the greatest public health mistakes of the century. Your health care provider should monitor your vitamin D level and ensure that it is at least 70 ng/ml (175 nmol/L). If you can't get sufficient sunlight in the winter take 40,000 IU of vitamin D3 supplement and make sure to also take 500 mg to 1000 mg of magnesium (on the skin) and 150 mcg of vitamin K2 (not K1) per day. They are important cofactors for optimising vitamin D3 supplementation.
Get a vitamin D cream and spread it directly on the rash.
Geranium essential oil directly on the rash will treat the pain.
Those with shingles often suffer from hypertension, which can be managed through diet and lifestyle.
Manage stress, and do not get sunburned even though it is important to get out in the sunshine.