How can you tell when Shingles are spreading to the internal organs?
Jul 10, 2005
I have numerous articles about herpes zoster which mention that in people whose immune systems are extremely weakened, the shingles virus can spread to the internal organs and affect the lungs, central nervous system and the brain, sometimes causing death.
They articles I found do NOT, however, discuss the symptoms or treatments for shingles once it has spread to the internal organs. They also do not mention if it typically occurs during or shortly after the initial episode of shingles, or develops gradually later. My concern is to be able to distinguish between that my increased post herpetic neuralgia pain after almost one years duration, and the possible spreading of the shingles virus to internal organs.
Can you elaborate on the spread of shingles to the internal organs and its symptoms?
Response from Dr. Conway
Shingles is caused by varicella zoster virus, a virus in the herpes family. The initial exposure to the virus is usually as a result of cickenpox in childhood. The virus then survives in nerve cells for the rest of your life. At various times (especially if your immune system is weakened, as by HIV infection), the virus can come out and cause shingles. At the time that it comes out, it can spread in your blood and go to various organs, such as the lungs or brain. If this spread is to occur, it will coincide with the outbreaks of shingles. It is important to consider aggressive treatment of the outbreaks with drugs such as valacyclovir as soon as they occur to prevent this spread.
Between outbreaks, there is a condition known as post-herpetic neuralgia, that has nothing at all to do with spread of the virus to the internal organs. It should be treated on its own with non-narcotic pain killers and other drugs (amitryptiline, carbamazepine and others) that seem to be effective in controlling it.
Far away in time from any outbreaks, you need not worry about spread to your internal organs.
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