Yes, it’s a dirty world out there, and infectious exposures are unfortunately very common. I will share with you some valuable tips to protect and prevent and even treat some of the most common ones. Severity of these infections can range from minor to life-threatening. So, buckle up and let’s get started.
SHINGLES (Herpes Zoster)
This viral infection can occur at any age, but is most common in the elderly and immune suppressed. It is actually a reactivation of the chicken pox virus that usually occurred decades previously. The key point here is early diagnosis! Since there are good antiviral medications to treat this, an early visit with a dermatologist can turn this around quickly and usually result in an abortive mild illness without sequelae. However, if this is let go to run its course, it can be a nightmare—very painful during the 2 week outbreak, and potentially very painful and disturbing for months to come. Even after the infection is resolved there can be lingering symptoms due to the sensory nerve damage in the area where the rash was. This is called POST Herpetic Neuralgia. Therefore, this infection should be a red alert both to patient and doctor—take it seriously! Recognize it early and get in quickly!!
So how do you recognize it? Uncomfortable, itchy or painful clustered red bumps begin to appear on one region of the body AND ON ONE SIDE OF THE BODY. (If the rash is obviously on both right and left sides, it is not shingles.) Get in for definitive diagnosis and aggressive treatment within 3 days—earlier the better—for the best results. The bumps will progress to water or pus blisters within a few days. This is when significant sensory nerve damage can occur, resulting in more pain, and risk for long term painful and strange sensations (neuralgia). Even worse can be a hemorrhagic progression—where the whole area gets red blood cells spilling into the area, resulting in a red/purple bruised appearance. This signifies intense inflammation and tissue injury and can result in long term neuralgia and scarring. People with a weakened immune system are particularly at risk— cancer patients, organ transplant and HIV patients most notably. These groups are even at risk for widespread skin spread (beyond the region or on both sides of the body) and possible dissemination to the internal organs and even death.
Some regions of the body are more problematic to get Shingles, such as the face and groin/buttock areas. If necessary body functions are impaired, a urologist for genital/urinary areas, a proctologist for rectal areas, or an ophthalmologist for the eyes may need to be consulted. Again, the earlier the treatment the better for these sensitive regions especially.
What about the Shingles vaccine? I don’t recommend it for two reasons. First, it doesn’t always work to prevent shingles, and can therefore give a false sense of security, often delaying diagnosis. Second, we have a good oral treatments for shingles, and if employed early enough can stop it in its tracks. My bottom line is this: if you understand the above and have ready access to a good dermatologist, you don’t need the vaccine. Simply get on treatment early and relax.
STAPH (STAPH AUREUS, MRSA)
Staph is by far the most common skin infection. This bacteria causes all sorts of skin, soft tissue and systemic infections. These range from minor pink eye to styes, impetigo and cellulitis, to life threatening toxic shock syndrome, sepsis, endocarditis and a variety of organ abcesses. With the advent of drug resistant strains more infections are serious events and should not be neglected. Again, early diagnosis and treatment are essential to assure successful and uneventful outcomes. Methicillin resistant staph aureus (MRSA) is an infection that often requires hospitalization with IV antibiotics. Methicillin is a form
of penicillin that effectively treated staph infections for about 40 years—until MRSA developed about 20 years ago. Today the majority of staph infections are still methicillin sensitive, but we don’t know which ones are resistant except for a culture test which takes a few days to get the results. The similarity with shingles (above) is that staph needs early diagnosis and aggressive treatment. The disparity is that shingles is a onetime event (some authors disagree, but I am convinced after practicing 35 years that you only get it once). Staph, especially MRSA, can be a lifetime event. Yes, we can do things to make it better, but this bacteria can hang around just waiting for an opportune time to resurface. See LOMA LUX and EPIONCE below for preventative natural therapies.
What doe Staph look like? It can have many presentations. Just to cover some common skin presentations, it can be resident in the nostrils where it may be asymptomatic (requiring a culture swab test by your doctor to detect) or be a recurring tender bump or pustule just inside the nose. It can be a scratch that heals very slowly with an adherent scab. Scabs can grow and ooze serum or pus (impetigo). Red tender patches without scabbing can progress to fever (cellulitis). Hair follicle based red bumps and pustules (folliculitis) or deeper lesions (furuncles) often form. Skin wounds—traumatic or surgical—often get infected with increasing redness, swelling and tenderness or fever. All of these require appropriate diagnosis and treatment (usually internal antibiotics).
What makes people susceptible to these infections? Trauma breaks the natural protective skin barrier, thus allowing the microscopic bacteria access into deeper layers of tissue where it can grow and multiply. If the immune system is not strong (immune suppression), this introduction into the skin can progress and become serious. Factors weakening our immunity range from not eating/exercising right to full on immunosuppression from chemotherapy or AIDS. Since there are no vaccines for Staph, it behooves all of us to stay as healthy as possible in our daily disciplines of eating and exercising right and getting adequate rest. Optimizing key nutrients like Vitamin D3 is another vital ingredient to staying healthy by boosting immunity. See my recent blogs on D.
LOMA LUX Eczema tablets and Epionce Medical Barrier Cream
Certain chronic skin conditions such as eczema have a predisposition to Staph due to a genetically weak external protective barrier function of the skin. For these individuals a simple OTC tablet by mouth daily and a daily application of a special barrier enhancing cream can make all the difference in maintaining healthy skin. I highly recommend these two products to anyone who suffers from Eczema or recurrent staph infections. See LOMALUX.COM and EPIONCE.COM, or call 866-374-6623.
I look forward to sharing about the Herpes Simplex virus in my next blog. PLEASE SIGN UP ON MY EMAIL LIST and I will send you something monthly for your skin.
Praying for your great health!
Steven A. Smith, MD. Dermatologist
Psalms 103, All HIS Benefits