Health · Home life · Word of the week

Word of the week: shingles

My son has a dose of the shingles. I’m not sure how he got it. It’s not the kind of thing that normally affects someone of his age (he’ll be 17 next week). So far nobody else in the family has caught it.

I have had shingles twice in my life, once in my 20s and again in my late 30s. Both times there was a cluster of red spots about halfway down my back, just to the left of my spine. My son has two clusters of spots, both of them a few inches above his waistline. There is a patch on his lower back, to the right of his spine, and another on his right side. They emerged during half-term, last Monday, and we saw the doctor two days later. We learnt that for someone so young the usual advice is to leave things to heal without any ointments or tablets. If the clusters were to become infected, through scratching for instance, the doctor might need to prescribe something, but otherwise just leave it. There would also be cause for concern if he had never had chickenpox, but he had that when he was a baby.

I checked with the doctor whether it was worth getting a prescription for Zovirax (Acyclovir) just in case. That’s what I was given last time I had it, a proper-sized tube (30g or 50g) for whatever a prescription cost in those days. Even then the 2g tubes and pumps cost around £5 so I had maybe £100-worth of Acyclovir for under a tenner. She said no. I mentioned that I was prescribed Betadine paint the first time I had shingles; she almost laughed and told me that we’ve come a long way since then. She didn’t quite say, “And we don’t use leeches these days either” but it wouldn’t have surprised me if she had.

As mentioned previously on these pages, I’m not very good at medical chat, but shingles is one of the few things I do know about. My knowledge comes from whatever the doctors told me when I had a dose of it. It’s a viral infection, Latin name Herpes Zoster, the same virus that causes cold sores. Most people who get it have had chickenpox but as mentioned above, it is more dangerous for people who haven’t had it. It is also a danger for people with “compromised immunity”.

I can report that my son is recovering from the outbreak more quickly than I did. After a week the clusters of spots have diminished noticeably, even without the aid of ointments, paint or leeches.

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