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CHICKEN POX DOWN THE ROAD
Wed, 25th March 2015
 

Once about nine kids in ten developed chicken pox. As most young mums know, this is a highly contagious infection readily transmitted by personal contact. It causes skin blisters starting on the trunk and spreading to head and limbs. There may be a mild fever and fairly quick recovery.

However, occasionally the virus spreads to the brain or other areas. With the ready availability of chicken pox vaccine given in infancy, this has now almost universally stopped the disease. Young parents, please make certain this is included in infant immunisation programmes. However, the virus is also a long term player.

Silently Spread

It can silently spread to nerves just under the skin. In later life, anywhere from 45 to 80 years later, this may suddenly erupt. It comes in the form of tiny lines of skin blisters. But worse, the underlying pain may be ferocious. It has often been likened to red-hot coals on the skin. Worse, the pain may persist, often from weeks to months or in some cases even years, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Apart from infant vaccination, one may soon become available for adults, reducing risks of shingles. But if the tell tale blisters and pain do occur, simple measures may help. Some say applying cold packs or chipped ice can relieve pain. Others say Betadine dabbed onto the skin areas may kill the virus.

Various Treatments

Zostrex, which is manufactured from the active ingredient of capsicum, relieves others by dampening down the skin pain receptors. The newer anti-virals may be taken orally. To be effective, it is essential they be started within 72 hours of the first sign of blisters. Many say this brings fairly prompt relief, reduces blister duration and lessens long term pain. Paracetamol for pain relief helps many, but is often inadequate. 2 x 500 mg tablets may be taken one to four times a day, not more often. Those containing codeine are stronger. Even more potent medications are specifically targeted to herpes pain. As it is caused by the herpes virus family, it is commonly called herpes zoster, or more simply "shingles". It has been around for centuries. Today the outlook is good.

 
SLEEPERS

Q: 

As I was having temporary sleep difficulties, the doctors prescribed Stilnox to be taken for a short time when going to bed. My son tells me the other night I got out of bed went to the fridge loaded up a plate of stewed fruit and yoghurt (which I often eat), ate it, washed the plate, and then went back to bed. I said he was "having me on", but when he showed me the plate and empty fruit dish in the fridge I believed him, but have no recollection. Am I going crazy?

A: 

This or similar events have been reported by many patients. It does not appear to be serious, but who knows how many times it will recur. Ones only apprehension is that a person may walk over the balcony or into the street. So far, this disaster has not appeared in mainstream medical literature. But who knows. Watch this space. Ideally, the less sedating medication and for the minimum period of time the better - not indefinitely. It probably beats the universal sedative of yesteryear, alcohol in a variety of different forms and doses!

 
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DATES AND FIGS

Q: 

I have enjoyed "regularity" for most of my life, eat heaps of figs and dates, muscatels, fruit and veggies but there has been a fairly sudden variation to my regularity and wonder why. My diet has not changed.

A: 

See your GP without delay. Any sudden change in intestinal regularity often has an underlying cause. In older persons (that means anyone over 40) bowel cancer is a distinct possibility. Often a colonoscopic examination is recommended. Here, under direct VDU screening, any pathology can be detected. Often a piece of tissue may be removed for microscopic examination. Do not delay. Incidentally, a "hemoccult test" is worthwhile, but is not diagnostic.

 
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SKIN CREASES

Q: 

What is current medical opinion about "skin creases" such as on the palms and ear lobes?

A: 

Doctors do not believe skin creases are of any medical relevance. However, many look at their "life line" and other lines that have been given names, historically, there may be some hidden truths. The ear lob crease has often been mentioned in medical journals as indicating possible heart disease. If you have one, please have a cardiac checkout! This is all in contrast to other "skin marks", specially moles, dark marks, red patches, blisters, itchy areas and other skin symptoms. Most of these are treatable, and the sooner the better.

 
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POOP DECK

Q: 

Why, when you lovingly nurse your six week old grandson, horrible watery yellow gunk flows from under his nappy down the front of your suit? Yuk!

A: 

Turn back the clock and try and remember. Tiny new morsels have no control over their "sphincters", the valves which later guard all known body outlets. The more they squiggle and smile (this is not a real smile for they can't even see you at six weeks), the greater nervous activity is generated. This invariably results in release of that lovely stuff which started off as a soothing feed a few hours before. Ideally, wrap yourself in a towel or apron before lovingly hugging your new relative next time.

 
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CUTTING TABLETS

Q: 

Is it OK to cut medication tablets in two so as to conserve costs?

A: 

The answer is "Yes", although some disagree. Special cutting gadgets are available from pharmacists. The "Harvard Health Letter" recently says this is now being widely promoted in the United States. A 40 mg tablet can easily be cut into two making 2 x 20 mg which is often the recommended dose, for example. However, in "slow release" tablets this is not advised - discuss with your doctor which ones are suitable to the austerity measures. In short, it may almost halve medication costs.

 
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This health advice is general in nature. You are advised to seek medical attention from your doctor or health care provider for your own specific symptoms and circumstances.

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