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Evaluating herbal medicine for the management of Herpes zoster in human immunodeficiency virus-infected patients in Kampala, Uganda.

OBJECTIVE: This study was carried out to evaluate the potential effectiveness of herbal treatments used for herpes zoster (HZ) by a great number of people living with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (PLWAs) in Uganda.

SETTING: Kampala, Uganda. Clinics of indigenous traditional healers, at the Department of Medicine of Mulago Hospital, Makerere University, and at The AIDS Support Organization (TASO) Clinic, providing primary care to people living with HIV and AIDS. DESIGN, PATIENTS, AND PARTICIPANTS: Nonrandomized, nonplacebo controlled, observational study in two phases. Inclusion criteria included HIV seropositivity and a recent HZ attack. In phase 1, 52 patients were enrolled, treated, and followed for up to 3 months at three healers' clinics, and compared to 52 TASO Clinic controls receiving ambulatory care. Phase 2 was similar in design to phase 1, but lasted longer (6-month follow-up) and involved 154 hospital outpatients treated with herbal medicine and 55 TASO controls. In both phases, healer patients were given herbal treatment according to healers' prescriptions, while controls received either symptomatic treatment or acyclovir.

RESULTS: Healer patients and controls experienced similar rates of resolution of their HZ attacks. Fewer healer patients than controls experienced superinfection in phase 1 (18% versus 42%, p < 0.02) and fewer healer patients showed keloid formation in either phase. This difference was not statistically significant. In both phases, zoster-associated pain resolved substantially faster among healer patients with a higher degree of significance in phase 2 where the progression of pain over time could be seen because of the longer follow-up (phase 1: maximum p value (pmax) < pmax < 0.02 at 1 month, pmax < 0.005 at 2 months, pmax < 0.0001 at 3 months).

CONCLUSION: Herbal treatment is an important local and affordable primary care alternative for the management of HZ in HIV-infected patients in Uganda and similar settings.

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