Bitten By An Unknown Tropical Bug


My first night in Dar es Salaam.

I was visiting my daughter, her husband and 7 month old grandson .

But …. all was not well. I tossed and turned in the bed trying to find a comfortable position. My back, hip and leg ached and I felt generally unwell. It must be the travelling and unfamiliar bed I thought.The next morning I got out of bed stiffly, feeling a hundred years old. In the shower I noticed “it” for the first time. It was small and looked insignificant, probably an insect bite I thought.

As the day passed I felt strange shooting pains in my back and down my leg. Still blissfully unaware of the truth, I ignored it. After all I don’t often have the chance to visit and play with my adorable grandson. That  night was torture. The pain in my back and leg became worse and I alternated between sleeping in my own bed and a bed in the study. I still thought the softer bed cause the back ache.

The next morning my “bites” were much more and very painfull. My whole leg seemed to burn and was covered with an ugly red rash stretching from the groin to below the knee. I must be allergic to this bug I thought, but decided to give it a few more days.

The day before we were due to return to South Africa, I asked my daughter to take me to the doctor. I reasoned it was better to check this unknown tropical bug out before leaving. After all they might not be familiar with it in South Africa! To my dismay the doctor took one look at the rash and  said “You have shingles” 

Thus my long and painful journey with shingles began.

My first reaction was a need to understand this thing causing me so much pain. I started reading as much as I can. The more I read, the more alarmed I became. I learnt that shingles is an infection of a nerve and the area of skin supplied by the nerve. It is caused by a virus called the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox.  Most people have chickenpox at some stage (usually as a child). After recovery from chickenpox, some virus particles remain inactive in the nerve roots next to the spinal cord. They do no harm there, and cause no symptoms. For reasons that are not clear, the virus may begin to multiply again (reactivate), often years later. The reactivated virus travels along the nerve to the skin to cause shingles.

illustration of the progression of the illness.

shingles illustrated

The following day we travelled back to South Africa.I dressed in a pair of loose fitting soft pants as by this time my leg was so painful that anything touching it was torture. On arrival in Johannesburg I prayed that the fever scan all passengers arriving from African countries have to go through would not pick up anything. I passed the scan and we could at last go home.

By this time the rash had formed blisters and the pain increased to an almost unbearable level. Although the rash was painful, the shooting neuralgic pain in my back leg and hip was much more severe. it felt as if hot knives were stuck repeatedly into these areas. To top this the medication made me feel horrible. Nausea accompanied the pain and general feeling of being unwell.

On Monday I went to see my doctor again. Shock registered on her face for a fleeting moment when she saw my ugly red, inflamed leg. “You have a severe case of shingles” she declared, and gave me a prescription for more medicine.I left armed with anti inflammatory pills, pain pills and the thought that I will soon be a walking chemist taking all this. She also predicted that it would take anything from 6 weeks to 6 months to recover. Not possible I thought.

At the end of the week I was still not feeling better. In fact the neuralgia pain has become so bad that I was given more pain killers. This time a variety designed specifically for  neuralgia pain. I started taking them  and slowly the pain improved.

Three weeks later and I have to go back to work. The rash looks much better but the pain both on the skin and the neuralgia persists. If the leg is not burning and itching, it feels numb to touch, Nights are still filled with fitfull sleep and periods of intense pain. I encourage myself with the fact that I am beginning to feel better, but know that a long journey lies ahead of me while my body  battles this “unknown tropical bug ”  

I wrote  this post hoping to inform someone out there and to encourage all to take the vaccination against shingles.

2 thoughts on “Bitten By An Unknown Tropical Bug

  1. My heart goes out to you. What a nightmare you have been through and still going through. Hang in there, it should get better. Thanks for writing this post, I’m sure it will help someone feel better. I know you educated me.

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