Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Mystery Illness Solved!

This post may only be of interest to others who have as a hobby, the collection of strange medical factoids.   Some might call it hypochondria or Munchhausen syndrome.  But really, it's not either.  I find the human body immensely interesting, wonderfully amazing, and incredibly full of curiosities;  I just can't help myself when once I get started wondering about something. 

The kids have mentioned lately the many kids at school who have a red rash on faces, hands and arms.  Sophie exhibited a little bit of rashiness on her knuckles the other day.  A toddler at church the other day suddenly had a mysterious rash.  I don't know if they were all the same thing, but I figured that at least the ones at school were likely to be fifth disease.

This was not very mysterious, because one of the strange and unusual ailments I've read about is fifth disease, a relatively benign childhood illness caused by Parvovirus B19.  In children it can cause a slight fever or general malaise, but the most common symptom is a red rash, which can give the child a slapped face look, or appear lacy and mottled on the extremities.  When we pulled up some images on a google search, the school kids and Joe (who also had seen some of this rash on the kids at Wednesday school and church) all thought the google images of fifth disease were very similar to those rashes exhibited by the school kids.

I didn't really give it much more thought.  And although I've not yet seen such a paper, the kids said today that the condition is currently so prevalent among the kids in the elementary school, that the teachers have now sent a note of explanation home to the parents.  And that the rash is, in fact, fifth disease.

Score one for theMom.

Joe and I have been suffering from what we presume to be a virus of some sort, with a different set of symptoms.  We've had a few days of general malaise and fever, followed by a week or more of somewhat severe joint pain.  Joe's joint pain lasted a week in its acute stage, but is still with him a little bit, especially if he does not get enough rest.  It was debilitating enough during the first week that he napped at least once a day, and hobbled and groaned around much the rest of the time.  And used a copious amount of analgesic meds.

Let me take a moment to explain here that, probably because his celiac disease inhibits complete and proper absorption of nutrients, Joe tends to come down with more frequent, stranger and longer lasting illnesses than the rest of us.  So when he comes down with yet another mystery illness, I don't take it too seriously.  If I have any extra energy, I might baby him a little bit, but mostly he just waits it out, and tries to work as much as he can while it lasts.

And so all last week as Joe was hobbling around with his sore joints, I mostly ignored him.  Not really in a bad way, but in the sense that I didn't give it much thought, but went on with life and figured it would run its course as most of his strange things do.

Until this one hit me.

On Friday last week, I ran a low grade fever.  Not really anything to speak of.  I didn't even take any acetaminophen or ibuprofen, but chose to ride it out and let my body do what it is supposed to do, namely, fight that germ.  The fever and slight chills lasted only a day; I rested most of the day and considered myself fine.  Saturday, too, I took it easy, as much as I could on a day with all the kids home, and in and out; weekend chores to orchestrate and monitor; and meals and laundry to get done.

But by Sunday night I was quite worn out.  Ill even.  Done in.

Sundays are always a bit wild, getting everyone ready for church.  But we all got there; the Sunday school kids sang; I substitute taught for Louisa; and we had annual dinner in Grygla for St. Petri after Oak Park was done.  We got home in time for me to take Louisa and Elsie into Oklee for their SADDs trip.  Then I came home and crashed.  I attributed it simply to doing too much when coming off a flu bug.

But I was starting to get achy.

And by night, I was itchy.

I felt as though my feet were going to explode.  They were slightly puffy.  My joints, every one of those tarsal, meta-tarsal, and phalanges joints, hurt like the beegeebers.  And they itched intensely.  A deep down itch like one might have in the week or two following a bee sting.

So I asked Joe a little more about his mystery illness from the previous week, and we decided that probably I was experiencing the same set of symptoms.  And let me tell you.  After four days of it, now, I'm feeling a little bit guilty for not giving Joe a little more attention.  Oh, my!  I've never had anything quite like this.  One day it's my feet and elbows, then the next, maybe my knees might kick in.  Later still, it might be my fingers, toes, and hips.  I took Benadryl for the itch that first night and that seemed to help. The itch receded after the first night.

But this joint pain...I compare it to having teeny tiny balloons between each set of bones, which are being inflated, and so push against everything.  Or like my wrist or elbow has felt occasionally when I have slept on it wrong and wake up with it all kinked, and with the nerves all haywire from the strange position.  My wrists and elbows have been the worst, as my grip is weak, and it hurts to lift anything.  But sitting and standing is uncomfortable in my knees and ankles; or the motion of going from sitting standing or vice versa.  I feel like an arthritic elderly person.  I toss and turn on my bed at night trying to get comfortable.

Today I picked up a van load of kids for Wednesday school, and they were all talking about this fifth disease.  The older kids, being in the junior high and highschool campus in Oklee, had not heard of the elementary school epidemic, so were asking many questions about how contagious it was and if older kids could get it, too.

So that got me thinking.  I had read at some point that fifth disease is one of those viruses that can be asymptomatic in many people.  That many adults, when tested, have the antibodies, but have no recollection of ever having had any symptoms of it.

That led then to the further thought, "But what about those adults who do contract the virus as adults?  Is there a separate set of symptoms for such people, since adults do not generally get the rash?  And (drum roll, please) might those symptoms include joint pain and inflammation?"

Well, what do you think?  From the CDC website,
People with fifth disease can also develop pain and swelling in their joints (polyarthropathy syndrome). This is more common in adults, especially women. Some adults with fifth disease may only have painful joints, usually in the hands, feet, or knees, but no other symptoms. The joint pain usually lasts 1 to 3 weeks, but it can last for months or longer. It usually goes away without any long-term problems.
And further, the government medical library site describes a study done on adults suffering from diagnosed Parvovirus B19, describes two phases.  The first phase is a mild fever and general malaise.  The second, with onset a few days later, is a phase of joint pain and swelling.

Score two for theMom.

Call me a hypochondriac.  Say I'm suffering from Munchhausen's.  But, hey, at least I have added another strange medical factoid to my collection.

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