In a nutshell
It’s risky if you have NEVER had chickenpox yourself
The expert view
If you’re pregnant and you haven’t had chickenpox or you’re not sure if you have, avoid contact with anyone who does have it.
If you do come into close contact with someone who has chickenpox or shingles, get medical advice immediately, advises GP Dr Philippa Kaye.
Close contact means:
- you’ve had face-to-face contact, such as a conversation
- you’ve been in the same room for at least 15 minutes
“If you are exposed to chickenpox and do not think that you have had chickenpox previously then it is possible to do a blood test to check whether or not you are immune to the condition and, depending on this result, doctors may offer you antibody treatment to stop you getting chickenpox while you are pregnant,” explains Dr Kaye.
Your GP can check if you’re immune to the chickenpox virus (varicella-zoster virus or VZV).
If you’re not, you may be given an injection of the zoster immune globulin (VZIG), up to 10 days after contact with someone with chickenpox.
It doesn’t work if you have actually developed a rash or blisters already though.
A woman is potentially infectious from 8 to 28 days after the VZIG injection, so you may be told to stay away from other pregnant women for a certain amount of time.
Chickenpox during pregnancy can cause complications, both for the pregnant woman and the unborn baby – but remember it’s rare to get chickenpox when you’re pregnant.
In the UK, it’s estimated that just 3 in every 1,000 women (0.3%) catch chickenpox during pregnancy.
And, reassures Dr Kaye, “in most cases the condition is mild and there are no effects on the baby but your antenatal team will be informed and may wish to see and assess you”.
Complications for pregnant women
- Up to 1 in 10 pregnant women with chickenpox can develop pneumonia (inflammation of the lungs)
- Other rare complications include inflammation of other parts of the body, such as the brain and liver
Complications for the unborn baby
- There’s no evidence that catching chickenpox up to 28 weeks into pregnancy increases your risk of suffering a miscarriage
- Small risk the baby can develop foetal varicella syndrome (FVS), which can damage the baby’s skin, eyes, legs, arms, brain, bladder or bowel
- If you catch chickenpox between weeks 28 and 36 of pregnancy, the virus stays in the baby’s body but doesn’t cause any symptoms. However, it may become active again in the first few years of the baby’s life, causing shingles
- If you catch chickenpox after 36 weeks, the baby may be infected and could be born with chickenpox
If you have had chickenpox already before becoming pregnant, then you are immune to the virus so there shouldn’t be a risk. But the virus does stay in your system, and could cause shingles in later life.
Mums on our forum say
“The midwife told me to phone her if I was exposed and they would check my bloods for immunity.” porkchop
“I am a primary SEN teacher and chicken pox broke out at school this week and I have NEVER had it! So I went to the doc for an immunity test on Wed and found out yesterday that I am NOT IMMUNE!!!! So I have been off work today and I am off to hospital later (after all antenatal appts cos they don’t want me around other preg ladies) to have an interim injection to stop me and baby coming out with the pox! But the risks if we did are HORRIBLE!
“My mind was working on panic over time before the hospital rang at lunch time to say I could have it done without any risks – PHEW sigh of relief was MASSIVE!” Maxnjacksmummy