Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Shingles Sufferer: Like Hundreds of Bees Stinging Her

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Shingles Sufferer: Like Hundreds of Bees Stinging Her

Article excerpt

Nothing - not even childbirth - hurt as much as Joyce Fischer's bout with shingles.

Fischer, 52, of Clayton, is one of more than 1 million Americans who will suffer this year from shingles - pain and a blistery red rash that comes from a reactivation of the virus that causes chicken pox.

Unless shingles patients get medication for the disease within 72 hours of the rash's eruption, they run the risk of the pain lingering for months or years.

On Wednesday, as part of a national shingles awareness campaign, Washington University Medical School began offering free screenings to people who have symptoms. The screenings will be held weekdays through Nov. 22 at the Washington University School of Medicine Outpatient Dermatology Center, at 4570 Children's Place in the Central West End.

Because Fischer's pain was severe - she described it as hundreds of bees constantly stinging her - she went to a doctor the day the rash appeared and got an anti-viral medication.

But the medications have only been used for two or three years to treat shingles, said Dr. Jerome Aronberg of the Washington University School of Medicine. Not all cases of shingles are as painful as Fischer's, and the people most at risk of the lingering pain - those 60 and older - frequently try to tough the disease out.

Who is at risk for shingles? Anyone who has had chicken pox - that's about 90 percent of all adults - and whose immune system has been weakened by disease or stress.

Shingles is most common in people 50 and older. If a younger person gets an extensive case and is in a high-risk group for AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), doctors often will order an HIV blood test.

People get shingles when the immune system falters. Then the virus that caused chicken pox can travel to the skin, along a nerve, from an area near the spinal cord where it has lain dormant for years, said Dr. Ann G. Martin of the Washington University School of Medicine.

The first symptom of the disease is the sensation caused by the virus traveling along the nerve, damaging the nerve as it goes. Some people describe the feeling as tingling; others complain of numbness; still others suffer a sharp, burning pain. …

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