Is it safe to be near someone with shingles when I’m pregnant?

Doctor's guidance on what to do if you've been in contact with someone who has shingles

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In a nutshell

It’s only risky if you have never had chickenpox

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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 has shingles.

It is confusing, but you can’t catch shingles from someone who has shingles – even if you have been in really close contact with them.

But – you can develop chickenpox from direct contact with the exposed shingles rash, only if you have never had chickenpox before.

GP Dr Philippa Kaye explains: “If you have not had chickenpox and have been exposed to someone with either chickenpox or shingles then you can catch chickenpox.  However you CANNOT catch shingles from being near someone with shingles.”

This is because both shingles and chickenpox are caused by the same virus: the herpes varicella-zoster virus (VZV).

However, the risk is low, particularly if the person’s shingles rash is covered by clothing or a dressing.

In shingles, the virus is passed on from the exposed rash, usually by direct contact, such as by touching an infected person’s open blisters.

The good news is that if you have had chickenpox before – either as an adult or a child – you are immune to getting it.

“If you had chickenpox as a child, and most women have had chickenpox before they become pregnant then you do not need to worry whether you are near someone with chickenpox or shingles,” adds Dr Kaye.

What if I get shingles myself?

Unfortunately, the fact that shingles is caused by the same virus as chickenpox mans that you can develop it yourself. This happens because after you recover from chickenpox, the virus stays in your body and can become active again later in the form of shingles.

This can happen at any time after you have chickenpox, sometimes years later.

And the NHS reassures that if you develop shingles when you’re pregnant, it’s usually mild and there’s no risk to you or your baby.

But it’s still worth contacting your GP or midwife immediately if you develop any rash when you’re pregnant, including a rash that develops after contact with someone who has shingles or chickenpox.

What if I haven’t had chickenpox as a child?

If you have never had chickenpox before, it can be risky to be in close contact with someone with shingles.

This is because there’s a small risk the baby can develop foetal varicella syndrome (FVS) up to 28 weeks.

FVS 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.

Mums on our forum say

“I had a mild dose of shingles while and pregnant and it didn’t do me, or baby any harm. I wasn’t in any pain really just had an uncomfortable rash.” SuzMcH1

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“I had to have jabs at 5+5 as no immunity to chickenpox and my daughter had shingles, and have had more jabs since as the immunity doesn’t last very long!!!” malakin

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