Your health questions answered

Is our daughter's immune system damaged?
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Indy Lifestyle Online

IMMUNITY WORRY

Q. Our six-year-old daughter developed shingles recently on her chest and down her leg. We were told by her GP that she got this because she was run down as a result of the chickenpox that she had about a year ago. Although she is back to normal, we are worried that there may be some underlying immunity problem. Are there any further tests that can be done?

A. Shingles is an infection with the same virus that causes chickenpox. This family of viruses also causes cold sores and genital herpes. The chickenpox virus tends to remain in the body for many years after the illness is over, and at times of reduced immunity it can be reactivated. When this happens, the virus reappears in the form of shingles. But shingles in a six-year-old is unusual - it's much more common in middle-aged and elderly people. It is even more unusual for a child to get shingles in two areas of the body. Your daughter may well have reduced immunity and it would be sensible for her to have some further tests done. There are a variety of immune deficiencies that can affect children, and very occasionally shingles in a child can be the first sign of something more serious, such as HIV infection.

NEW FOREST CONCERNS

Q. We are spending our next holiday in the New Forest. We have been warned that the ticks there carry Lyme Disease. What can we do?

A. Lyme Disease is caused by a corkscrew-shaped bacteria that is transmitted by ticks. The disease starts off as a flu-like illness, and sometimes there is a circular rash around the site of the tick bite. The best way to prevent it is by protecting yourself against bites. Use insect repellents and inspect yourself and your children carefully every night. Ticks are very small - about the size of a poppy seed - and if you find any attached to the skin, gently grip them with tweezers near to the skin and steadily pull them out. Ticks that are removed within the first 24 hours do not transmit the bacteria. If you think you may have got infected, or if you develop any symptoms in the weeks and months after your holiday, see a doctor for a blood test. When it's treated early with antibiotics, Lyme Disease is easy to cure. If it's neglected it can become much more stubborn.

Please send your questions and suggestions to A Question of Health, 'The Independent', 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; fax 020-7005 2182, e-mail health@independent.co.uk. Dr Kavalier regrets that he is unable to respond personally to questions.

Readers write

GM from Hampshire urges caution before embarking on foot surgery:

Two years ago I rushed into an operation to excise a Morton's neuroma on the assurance that I would feel the full benefit within six weeks. However, to my dismay, the nerve was badly upset by the surgery and there is still no sign of it healing, with the result that my foot is now far more painful than it was before the excision.

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