Shingles rarely spreads chickenpox


DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have suffered with shingles for the past six months. My daughter, who lives a long distance from me, is coming for a visit. She’s pregnant with her first child. I wonder if I should let her come because of my shingles. I know shingles is related to chickenpox, and I don’t want her to be infected. It could harm her baby. What would you advise? — L.S.

ANSWER: You’re right about the shingles-chickenpox connection. Shingles is the awakened chickenpox virus, which found a permanent home during a childhood infection with the virus. That home is nerve cells. It stays there for life. Later in life, the hibernating chickenpox virus wakens and makes its way down the nerve to the skin, where it shows up as an outbreak of shingles.

You’re also right about the chances of fetal harm if a mother were to catch chickenpox. That happens only to a small number of pregnant women, around 0.04 percent to 2 percent, and it mostly happens when a woman is exposed to an active case of chickenpox. All the same, even the minimal threat of birth defects weighs heavily on the minds of everyone.

Catching chickenpox from someone with shingles is a rare event. It can happen, but does so only when the rash is present; fluid inside the rash blisters contains chickenpox virus. Once the rash has gone, the small chance of spreading the virus also goes.

You don’t have shingles. You have postherpetic neuralgia, pain that remains long after all signs of the rash have disappeared. Postherpetic neuralgia comes from injury to the nerve that occurred when the virus made its way down the nerve to the skin. You have no virus on your skin. You cannot pass it to your daughter. Her visit is safe.

If your daughter hasn’t had chickenpox or hasn’t received the vaccine, she should consider getting the vaccine after she delivers.

TO READERS: Peripheral artery disease is a common malady of older people. That condition and its treatment are discussed in the booklet on that topic. To order a copy, write: Dr. Donohue — No. 109, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My brother says he has AIDS. He doesn’t look the least bit sick. He talks about his T-cells. What’s he talking about? — N.N.

ANSWER: T-cells are part of the body’s defense against infections. The HIV virus (human immunodeficiency virus) decimates the ranks of T-cells. When their number drops, all sorts of difficult-to-treat infections spring up.

A point needs clearing up. Your brother is infected with the HIV virus. He doesn’t have AIDS. AIDS occurs when the complications of HIV infection appear — strange infections with bacteria, viruses and fungi, and some cancers.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Please say something about acidosis. I take it to mean there’s too much acid in the body. Does it happen only to children? — B.K.

ANSWER: The kidneys and the lungs work hard to keep the body in acid-base balance. (Base is the opposite of acid.)

Either lung or kidney problems can turn the blood and body more acid (acidosis) or more basic (alkalosis). So can other illnesses, like profuse vomiting.

Acidosis and alkalosis are not confined to children.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from