Where Did This Mysterious Zika Virus Come From?

definition of zikaToday, the Zika virus is on the mind of almost everyone; pictures of the children affected by the virus are seen constantly in the news.  Beginning today, I will try to keep us up to date on the latest information available.

The virus is named after the Zika Forest in Uganda, Africa, where it was first discovered in the late 1940s.  Since then it was not considered to be a major problem because it usually caused mild flu symptoms, which soon passed rather quickly.  Then last year’s reports came from Brazil about a major invasion of the virus.  There were pictures of the many affected newborns that had been infected, and the resulting congenital microcephaly was seen everywhere.

Why is this virus now causing all these problems?  Where has it been the last 60-70 years?  Some experts believe the virus has mutated, and some think it has always been there, but was quietly going unnoticed.

As the summer approaches and the mosquitoes return, the Zika virus will certainly be a concern in the mainland of our country.  Puerto Rico already reported about a 1000 confirmed cases, including approximately 100 pregnant women.  With the travel season upon us, the numbers of our family and friends who will be exposed to the virus is staggering, so being aware of the latest information is paramount in our quest to be safe.

-Dr. P

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What Factors Lead You to Vaginitis?

Vaginitis - Printed Diagnosis with Blurred Text. On Background of Medicaments Composition - Red Pills, Injections and Syringe.

Let us continue our update and review of vaginitis from my last post about this topic.

To better understand why vaginitis occurs, let us look at the vaginal environment.  The lining of the vagina is made of squamous epithelial cells.  These are flat and stratified, which means that there are multiple layers of these calls.  These cells are rich in glycogen – a storage form of glucose.  Remember, glucose is the most important simple sugar, and it is used as a source of energy for all human functions.

The squamous cells are continuously being shed from the lining and the glycogen in these becomes the energy for the lactobacilli that are naturally found in the vagina.  These bacteria convert the glucose into lactic acid, which keeps the vaginal environment in an acidic state, helping to maintain the normal vaginal bacterial flora plus preventing abnormal organisms from growing.

Microscopic view of Trichomonas vaginalis
Trichomonas vaginalis

If you disrupt the normal community of organisms, vaginitis can occur.  There are many factors that can affect this natural environment:

  • Pregnancy
  • Estrogen levels, for example, a menopausal state where estrogen levels are decreased
  • Different phases of the menstrual cycle
  • Sexual activity
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Different medications such as oral contraceptives and antibiotics

-Dr. P

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Are You Prepared for This Summer’s Tiniest Villains?

I was working in my garden, and guess what I discovered yesterday, once again?  I spotted another tick on myself!  Because of this, I thought it would be a great time to discuss ticks all over again – what they do, what you should do if you find one on yourself, and all about Lyme disease.

Are You Prepared for This Summer’s Tiniest Villains-742474_1280Over 30,000 new cases of Lyme disease are diagnosed each summer, and 90% occur in 10 states.  New York is one of those states.  This disease is an infection caused by the bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi, which enters the body from an infected deer tick’s bite.

While the tick is attached, it begins to suck blood from the victim, and at this time, it regurgitates the bacteria back into the person’s system.  Most of the infections in humans are caused from the bites of immature ticks called nymphs, which are the size of poppy seeds.  The disease can also be transmitted from the bite of an adult deer tick, but because they are larger, they are more likely to be discovered before having time to transmit the disease.

The Infectious Disease Society of America does not recommend antibiotics for everyone who has been bitten by a tick.  If the rash of Lyme disease develops, then antibiotics are advised.

The rash is the easily noticed circular “bull’s eye” target-like rash.  This rash can begin anywhere from 1 to 4 weeks after the bite.  It starts out being the size of a quarter and can widen to 6 to 9 inches as the bacteria spread out.  If your anxiety of developing the disease is great, many doctors will treat you with doxycycline if you do not have an allergy to the medication.

You Found a Tick on Yourself – What Are the Next Steps?

Once you have discovered that a tick is on your body, you remove it with tweezers.  Try to detach it at the base of the tick’s attachment.  If it is removed within 24 to 48 hours, it is unlikely that it has infected you withTick Removal Display Image Lyme disease.  Also, it is important to remember that only 1 in 20 people bitten with an infected tick will develop the disease.  Not every deer tick carries the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, with usually 1 in 5 being carriers in high risk areas.

An Alternate Way to Remove Those Ticks!

I recently learned about a different way to help remove a tick.  Take a cotton ball and put liquid soap on it.  Cover the discovered tick with the cotton ball and rub the soap on the tick for a few seconds.  Usually the tick will dislodge on its own and be stuck to the cotton ball as you take it away.  Hopefully you will not need to try this method but keep it in the back of your mind.

What Is Most Likely to Happen if You Are Diagnosed with Lyme Disease?

When Lyme disease has been diagnosed because you have the “bull’s eye” rash from a tick bite or a positive blood test, your medical team will usually prescribe an antibiotic regimen.  Depending upon your history of allergies, two of the most common treatments are amoxicillin (500 mg three times a day for 14 to 21 days) or doxycycline (100 mg twice a day for 14 to 21 days).

Bull's Eye Rash (Tick)

Intravenous antibiotic treatments are not often needed, but they are needed when the Lyme infections are more serious.  These would include infections around the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) or heart (carditis).

I would like to leave you with two interesting facts about Lyme disease.  If for some reason you get the infection and do not obtain treatment with an antibiotic, you have about a 10-15% risk of developing Lyme arthritis, and this needs to be treated with a different antibiotic plan.

Even after treating Lyme disease and having no blood tests pointing to an active disease, about 10-20% of people will not feel well for months, having complaints of being exhausted and joint pain.  Antibiotics do not seem to be the answer for this frustrating condition.  The passage of time is the ultimate treatment.

Enjoy your summer and always check your clothes and body for ticks after working or playing outdoors in a grassy area.  Then take a shower, which removes the ticks off your body and prevents those troublesome bites!

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-Dr. P

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When Should Young Women Start Getting Pap Smears?

5461276006_df3a5a44b8_zCervical cancer was once the number one cancer killer, but with the introduction of the Pap smear almost 60 years ago, this cancer has become increasingly rare.  The guidelines for cervical cancer screening are always evolving, and the American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology (ASCCP) has been at the forefront of these changes.

The relationship between high-risk HPV (human papillomavirus) and the development of pre-cervical and cervical cancer has been well established.  Thankfully, most HPV infections are short-lived and not detected within 1-2 years.  Only a small percentage of infected women will go on to develop a high-grade cervical abnormality or cervical cancer.

More than 80% of all women will develop a genital HPV infection by the time they reach the age of 50.  HPV infections are the most common in young women, and again, these infections are cleared by most young women in less than two years.

We now have a good understanding of the natural history of HPV infections and the development of cervical cancer and the pre-cancers.  ASCCP’s guidelines advise that cervical cancer screening should begin at age 21 regardless of the age of sexual initiation.  Since most of the infections in the young will regress, starting a screening program at an earlier age may result in many unnecessary treatment interventions.

Remember to always discuss your particular concerns and develop your individual screening program with your healthcare professional.

-Dr. P

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Herpes Information Made Simple

…..A few times a week a new case of genital herpes presents to my office, and the patient always experiences great psychological and physical pain and stress.  The classic presentatioBeautiful Woman with Pencil and Folder Isolated on White.n of HSV (herpes simplex virus) is a painful group of vesicles and ulcers.

…..The infections are classified as primary, non-primary first episode, or recurrent.  The primary infection is the most painful and may be associated with tender lymph nodes as well as a fever and body aches.  If not treated, these primary lesions can last 2 to 6 weeks.  Recurrences vary in their frequency; however, 50% of patients will have one within 6 months.  These recurrences are generally milder with fewer lesions and a much shorter course.

Herpes, Type 1 and Type 2

…..HSV is a DNA virus classified into two subtypes, 1 and 2, based on various proteins making up the virus.  HSV-1 is primarily the cause of herpes of the mouth and in the past was said to be the cause of infections above the waist.  It can also be responsible for genital infections, and these infections are becoming more common, especially among young women.

…..HSV-2 is almost always a genital infection.  The virus is spread through direct contact with mucosa (moist tissue like the vagina and lips/mouth) or damaged, irritated skin.  Incubation of the virus lasts for about a week, and the virus then reproduces in the superficial layers of the skin, causing inflammation and damage.  During the first infection, the virus enters the nerve cells and becomes dormant.  The virus can reactivate and cause ulcerative disease or shed without any symptoms.

…..Let me leave you with a few facts:

  • In the US, 20% of women have had an HSV-2 infection
  • Most infections are spread by those who are unaware of having HSV
  • Recurrent disease is more common in those with type 2, compared to those with type 1

Methods of Herpes Treatment

 …..For now we will finish our discussion of herpes.

…..During a symptomatic outbreak, the treatment consists of supportive measures such as oral and topical pain medications and special genital hygiene.  An antiviral medication can be added to decrease the viral shedding and the duration of the painful ulcers.  These medications should be started at the onset of the symptoms.

…..Acyclovir and valacyclovir are the two most common antivirals used and have a long history of safety in pregnancy.  There are some patients who experience frequent attacks, and a daily treatment of these medications can greatly suppress the episodes and therefore decrease the chance of spreading to a sexual partner.

…..In the future we will have a discussion of herpes and pregnancy, but for now I am going to get a donut.

-Dr. P

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What Factors Place Adolescents at an Increased Risk of Developing STIs?

Young women are at a high risk of acquiring STIs (sexually transmitted infections) and of developing the serious complications of untreated chlamydial and gonococcal infections.  Almost half of all STIs occur in teenagers and young adults between the ages of 15 and 25.  Physical and behavioral factors place the sexually active teenager at an increased risk to develop these infections.

Physically, the cervix is more vulnerable to these infections because it has not fully developed, exposing more susceptible cells to the infections.  Since the young woman may be coming into contact with these infectious agents for the first time, her immune defenses are not strong.

Behavioral risk factors include having multiple new sexual partners and not using condoms or not using condoms properly.  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has a goal to increase the simultaneous use of both condoms and hormonal contraception (birth control pills).  This combination of methods is highly effective in preventing a pregnancy and preventing the acquisition of STIs.  Yet currently, some studies reveal that only about 5% of adolescent females are using this practice.

-Dr. P

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This Little Surprise in Your Garden Can Cause a Big Problem

Two days after working in the garden, I was taking a shower, and on my shoulder I found a dark raised lump that looked like an apple seed. Of course I panicked, took a nail clipper, grasped the bottom of the “seed,” and then pulled it off. It was a tick! I put it down next to the sink and it started to walk. Again I panicked, crushed it, and flushed it down the toilet.Garden M.O. USENext, the ever-calm OB/GYN doctor quietly called his wife to let her know what happened and to check the rest of my body for ticks. Surely you know that is not the manner in which I spoke. Thank God I was smart enough many years ago to have found a calm and cool wife who then helped me check for any other ticks, and none were found.

The next morning, again while taking a shower, on my abdomen I found another dark spot. This time it was much smaller, black, and I did not notice it the morning before. It was another tick.

Later that day, I went to see my personal physician, who happens to be one of my dearest friends. He is an expert on Lyme disease and took care of me. This story has prompted me to write about this problem and get some basic information to my friends.

Over 30,000 new cases of Lyme disease are diagnosed each summer, and 90% occur in 10 states.  New York is one of those states. This disease is an infection caused by the bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi, which enters the body from an infected deer tick’s bite.

While the tick is attached to us, it begins to suck blood from the victim, and at this time, it regurgitates the bacteria into the person’s system. Most of the infections in humans are caused from the bites of immature ticks called nymphs, which are the size of poppy seeds. The disease can also be transmitted from the bite of an adult deer tick, but because they are larger, they are more likely to be discovered before having time to transmit the disease.

Continue to: You Found a Tick on Yourself – What Are the Next Steps?

-Dr. P

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