Saturday, July 5, 2014

Learnings from Shingles

As I posted in my last blog, I had shingles. Shingles a.k.a. Herpes Zoster is a recurrence of chicken pox. Once a person is infected with chicken pox, the Varicella Zoster virus (the virus causing chicken pox) stays dormant deep within the nerves, and stays there sleeping. Once a person's immune system goes down, the virus wakes up and travels from the nerve to the surface of the skin, resulting in Shingles. Most of the time, this affects old people (>50 years old), or people who are immuno-compromised (like PLHIV and cancer patients). But, this can also affect healthy people (though not very common). Shingles is infectious to people who haven't had chicken pox before, and it will manifest in them as chicken pox, NOT as shingles.  

Unlike chicken pox, shingles usually doesn't spread throughout the entire body. It manifests in a certain pattern following the path of the nerve. It only manifests in one part of the body (either left or right). And it is more painful than itchy. The nerve pain may stay on even after shingles is healed, sometimes until 1 month, and in a some cases, even until 1 year. And worse, it looks ugly... really disgusting! So I'm not posting any real-life photo.  

But, herpes zoster is not the typical herpes or herpes simplex. This is a common misconception. Although they are from the same herpes virus family, they are two different things! Herpes simplex is caused by the virus called HSV, while shingles is caused by the virus called Varicella Zoster. Herpes simplex may be sexually-transmitted, while Herpes Zoster is never sexually-transmitted, but merely a recurrence of chicken pox. Both stay dormant after they are healed, but may recur once a person's immune system goes down. 

So, what have I learned from my shingles outbreak? A week or two before my shingles infection, I have been stressed out. Stressed at work. I have been working till late and been getting little sleep. At the same time, I over exerted myself. Even if I was stressed out, I played badminton, started working out at the gym again, and even swam some laps in the pool during that week. These definitely affected my immune system, thus resulting in shingles outbreak!

I might be feeling well and normal now. But I should never forget that I still have HIV in my body, and that my CD4 is still considered to be very low (at < 100 count, < 9%). I should be more careful now... and take extra precaution. I should know my limits as I don't want to compromise my health! Shingles can recur if my immune system goes down again. I don't want this to happen again. It's itchy, painful and yucky! 

On a good note, this virus gave me the much needed 2-week rest from work. Just sleep, eat, read, TV, and DVD. I hope this is enough to recover my immune system. 

P.S. An IDS also told me that Vitamin B complex helps protect PLHIV from shingles outbreak, as it keeps the nerves healthy. And that IDS also advised me that some Vit B+ brands out there don't have as much amount of Vitamin B. So, I better change my brand, and go for a higher dose, to help speed up also the post-pain (post herpetic neuralgia) this shingles is causing. This pain is already giving me some sleepless nights, and is also waking me up in the middle of the night. :( 

Good news, this IDS also told me that a vaccine for shingles will soon be available for PLHIV, most likely next year! Can't wait. I'm sure this vaccine is way cheaper than 1-2 weeks of intake of acyclovir or valacyclovir, and definitely worth than suffer the pain, discomfort and yuckiness of shingles.