Chicken Pox and Pregnancy
Chicken pox is a very contagious viral infection. It is also known as varicella and can spread from person to person through contact or by breathing air contaminated with an infected person’s sneeze or cough. Getting chicken pox during pregnancy increases your risk for serious pregnancy complications. Fortunately, there are ways you can protect yourself and your unborn child from chicken pox.
Who is at risk of getting chicken pox during pregnancy ?
You are at increased risk if you have NOT been infected with chicken pox before. You may want to avoid coming into contact with anybody who has it. People who have been infected with the virus once before are immune to getting it again. If you are not sure of your status , a blood test can be done to check for the chicken pox antibodies. If you have these antibodies, then you are immune to chicken pox.
What are the symptoms ?
A rash usually first appears on the face and upper part of the body but this rash may spread to the entire body causing itchy blisters. Other symptoms include :
- high fever
- dehydration from nausea and vomiting
- severe itching
- infected skin lesions
- complications such as pneumonia, infection of the brain and bleeding problems
What is the effect of chicken pox on my baby ?
The effect of chicken pox on your pregnancy will depend on the gestational age of your pregnancy.
According to the Organization for Teratology Information Service (OTIS),
if you get the virus in the first trimester, the risk of birth defect in your baby is 0.5 to 1 % .
If infection occurs between pregnancy week 13 and 20, the risk of birth defect is 2 % .
If you get infected within 5 days or less to delivery or a day or two after delivery, there is a 20 to 25 % chance that your baby will develop congenital varicella.
If infection occurs within 6 to 12 days before delivery, there is a chance that your baby can still get chicken pox. He may however receive some of your newly made chicken pox antibodies, which will cause a mild form of congenital varicella.
Other possible birth defects include vision problems,scars, small head size, delayed development, poor growth or mental retardation.
How can I protect my baby from chicken pox ?
If you’ve had chicken pox before, you already have the antibodies against the disease and therefore your baby is protected.
If you have never gotten the infection before, you may get the zoster immune globulin (ZIG) shot if you are pregnant and come in contact with someone who has chicken pox. The shot should be given within 4 days of first exposure to the virus. ZIG is only given if you do not already have the antibodies against the virus.
You can also get the chicken pox vaccine if you are NOT pregnant and do not have the chicken pox antibodies. You will however have to wait at least 3 months before getting pregnant.
It is rare for someone to get infected with the varicella virus a second time. However, people who have problems with their immune system are at increased risk of a second infection.
Chicken pox and pregnancy. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CDC. http://www.cdc.gov/pregnancy/infections-chickenpox.html. Accessed October 14, 2014
What are the risks associated with chickenpox and pregnancy?. Mayo Foundation. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/pregnancy-week-by-week/expert-answers/chickenpox-and-pregnancy/faq-20057886. Accessed October 14, 2014
Chicken Pox (Varicella) and the Vaccine and Pregnancy.Organization of Teratology Information Specialists. OTIS. http://www.mothertobaby.org/files/chickenpox.pdf. Accessed October 14, 2014