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Shingles: What to Know About Symptoms, Anti-Virals and Personal Medical Advocacy

May 23, 2012

The disease of shingles is a reactivation of the varicella zoster (chicken pox) virus. It is in the herpes family. The herpes diseases like chicken pox remain latent or hidden in certain nerve roots in the spinal cord. With shingles, there is a reactivation of the virus in the nerve roots and it erupts into the skin areas served by those nerve roots.

Shingles or herpes zoster is on the rise and the risk of shingles increases as we age. Prompt recognition of the signs of possible shingles and immediate treatment with anti-viral medications can make the difference between a manageable, brief episode of shingles, and the devastating consequences of what is known as post-herpetic neuralgia, defined as persistent severe nerve pain.

If you even suspect shingles or develop its early signs, call your doctor immediately, explain that you think you may have shingles and that you need a same-day evaluation, in the event that you need anti-viral medications. The failure of a doctor to promptly provide anti-viral medications like valacyclovir (Valtrex) may constitute a breach in the standard of care and medical negligence (also known as medical malpractice), especially since the benefits of treatment with anti-viral medication like Valtrex for early shingles are supported by medical research.

The signs of a shingles attack occur on one side of the body. The first phase of symptoms is called the prodrome and consists of pain in the areas that will (in a short period of time) break out in a rash. Sufferers may experience other sensations in affected areas along with pain, such as itchiness, numbness or greatly increased sensitivity. In some cases, patients have also reported muscle aches, but chickenpox-style flu-like symptoms are rare. Slightly more than half of reported cases happen on the trunk of the body, followed by the head, then the neck and lower back. A rash on the face is particularly dangerous, as it puts your eyes and mouth at risk for infection.

If certain anti-viral drugs are started within 48-72 hours of the first symptoms, there is a very significant reduction in the risks of herpes, like post-herpetic neuralgia. The risk of that harm is greatly increased by not providing the medication within a narrow window of time.

All of this is especially true in people over 50 years of age. This group may benefit most from prompt administration of anti-viral medication. It is thought that the reason folks over 50 are more susceptible to shingles is that the antibodies which they have maintained since their childhood when they had chicken pox lose some of their efficacy. Shingles also are seen more in people who are on steroids or other immunosuppressant medications.

It is important to know the signs of shingles. Consult your doctor immediately if you suspect you are suffering from either shingles or, perhaps more dangerously, post-herpetic neuralgia. The sooner you start the medication, the sooner the ailment is likely to vanish. Time is of the essence.

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