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Herpes Zoster - Shingles

Agatha M. Thrash, M.D.
Preventive Medicine

Herpes is a venereal disease, common in our society, and is incurable. There are a wide range of symptoms including vaginal discharge, genital soreness, and vaginal bleeding. Men may suffer from blisters or ulcers on the genital area or adjacent skin. Both men and women may have painful urination, painful intercourse, fever, swollen glands in the groin, itching, loss of appetite, a sensation of loss of well-being, and localized abscesses if the lesions become secondarily infected.

Complications of genital herpes include neuralgia, meningitis, urethral strictures, scarring and fusion of the labia, and lymphatic abscesses with long-term drainage. Herpes recurs more frequently during pregnancy and it increases the risk of prematurity of the baby. Infected babies die about half of the time. Birth defects including blindness and abnormalities of the central nervous system may also result.

Treatment for herpes includes compresses, sitz baths, soothing ointments, painkillers and abstinence from sexual intercourse.Interferon has been recommended, but is extremely expensive. Lysine, an amino acid, has also been suggested, but as with other amino acids, it may imbalance the body's economy for nutrients to such a degree that a severe toxicity could result. To my knowledge, lysine has not been of substantial help.An active herpes episode within a few days preceding delivery could be dangerous for the infant. At least 85% of these episodes are accompanied by easily detected lesions, and the baby should be delivered by cesarean section (Ref. SCIENCE NEWS, December 24 and 31, 1983, p. 413).

Vaccines and medication offer little hope (Ref. MODERN MEDICINE, December 1983, p. 165).

Shingles is a word which means belt. Zoster means girdle. The herpes zoster virus which causes shingles is apparently the same virus which causes chickenpox. When persons have chickenpox in youth, the virus apparently sets up its residence in certain nerves and when the appropriate circumstance arrives in later life, the person comes down with shingles. These are blisters which run in a band-like pattern on patches of red skin.

The rash follows the course of one or more of the cutaneous nerves that transmit sensation to the skin. Only one side of the body is usually involved, and the nerves leading to the eyes, or other vital structure, may be affected. When the eye is affected, the blisters form not only on the forehead and eyelids, but even on the eyeball itself. If the eyeball is involved, it can cause blindness, and requires professional attention. The affliction often comes when the body's resistance is low, and may be preceded by smarting pain, general feeling of indisposition, and/or respiratory or digestive disturbances for two to three days prior to the onset of the blisters. These may persist for a week or two, and then dry up.

Treatment:

  • We suggest hot baths daily. (See handout on fever treatments for instructions.)
  • Use charcoal compresses at night.
  • Talcum powder or cornstarch may be soothing.
  • The blisters should not be opened, and should be kept clean and dry.
  • Aloe vera rubbed on the area of the blisters will soothe pain and promote healing. Open the leaves of Aloe vera and rub the moist part on the blisters.
  • Use an alcohol extract of cayenne for the post herpetic neuralgia, the pain which follows the healing of the shingles. The extract should be rubbed on the skin where the pain appears for seven to ten days before pain relief begins. (See Herbal Remedies.)

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