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Innermost Secrets / Innermost Living / Body Clock
Skip Navigation LinksVaricella_Chicken_Pox
Page modified at: 14/03/2010

Chicken Pox in Pregnancy

Chicken Pox is caused by a viral infection (varicella) and in pregnancy can cause harm to both mother and baby.

How common is Chicken Pox in pregnancy?

It’s rare to get chickenpox when you’re pregnant.

Most pregnant women are immune to chickenpox
Chickenpox mainly affects children. In the UK, more than 90% of pregnant women are immune to the virus that causes chickenpox, because they had the condition as a child.

If you were born and grew up in a tropical or subtropical area, you’re less likely to have had chickenpox as a child. Examples of these areas include India, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and some areas of Thailand.

Complications are rare
If a pregnant woman does get chickenpox, complications are also rare. Most pregnant women who get chickenpox recover, with no adverse effects for the baby.

In the UK, it’s estimated that chickenpox causes complications for about three in every 1,000 pregnancies.
Chickenpox during pregnancy can cause complications both for the pregnant woman and the unborn baby. In the UK, it’s estimated that chickenpox causes complications for about three in every 1,000 pregnancies.

It is rare to get chickenpox when you’re pregnant and most pregnant women who get chickenpox recover, with no adverse effects themselves or the baby.

 

When to get medical advice

You should seek advice from your GP or midwife immediately if you’re pregnant and:
•you think you may have chickenpox, or
•you know that you haven’t had chickenpox, or you’re not sure, and you’ve been near someone with chickenpox (even if you have no rash or other symptoms).
You should also contact your GP or midwife immediately if you get chickenpox within seven days of giving birth.

 

Complications that can affect pregnant women

You have a higher risk of developing complications from chickenpox when you’re pregnant if you:
•smoke,
•have a lung condition, such as bronchitis or emphysema,
•are taking steroids, or have taken steroids during the previous three months, or
•are more than 20 weeks pregnant.
Up to one in 10 pregnant women with chickenpox develop pneumonia (inflammation of the lungs).

Other rare complications can include inflammation of some parts of the body. For example:

•the brain (encephalitis),
•the liver (hepatitis),
•the heart muscle (myocarditis),
•the kidneys (glomerulonephritis),
•the appendix (appendicitis), and
•the pancreas (pancreatitis).
Very rarely, complications resulting from chickenpox during pregnancy can be fatal. 

 

Complications that can affect the unborn baby

There is a small risk that chickenpox during pregnancy can cause complications for your unborn baby. These complications vary, depending on how many weeks pregnant you are when you get chickenpox.

Chickenpox during the first 13 weeks of pregnancy does not appear to increase the risk of miscarriage.

However, if an unborn baby is infected with chickenpox in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, there’s a small risk that they can develop a rare condition called Fetal Varicella Syndrome (FVS). Research has shown that less than 1% of unborn babies were affected by FVS when their mothers had chickenpox while pregnant.

FVS can cause serious birth defects. For example:
•scarring of the skin,
•eye defects, such as cataracts, which cause the lens in the eye to cloud over,
•shortened limbs, and
•brain damage.
Complications that can affect the newborn baby
If you get chickenpox after week 37 of your pregnancy, your baby is at risk of being born with chickenpox. The risk of your baby being born early (prematurely) is also slightly increased.

If you get chickenpox seven days before or after giving birth, your baby may develop a severe type of chickenpox.

If a newborn baby comes into contact with chickenpox or develops the condition, they may need treatment. For more information, see How is chickenpox treated during pregnancy?

In a very small number of cases, severe chickenpox can be fatal.

 

What should I do if I'm pregnant and I've been near someone with chickenpox?

It depends on whether you’ve had chickenpox or not. Most pregnant women in the UK and Ireland have had chickenpox and are immune to the virus that causes it.

 

What if I haven’t had chickenpox?

You should get advice from your GP or midwife immediately, even if you have no rash or other symptoms, if:

•you’re pregnant and you know that you haven’t had chickenpox, or you’re not sure, and
•you’ve been near someone with chickenpox or shingles.
Rarely, chickenpox during pregnancy can cause complications both for the woman and her baby.

You should also get medical advice straightaway if:

•you’re pregnant and you think you may have chickenpox, or
•you develop any rash when you’re pregnant, including a rash that develops after contact with someone who has chickenpox or shingles.
Chickenpox and shingles
In some people, the chickenpox virus can become active again later in life, when it causes shingles.

If you’re not immune to the chickenpox virus, it’s possible to catch chickenpox from someone who has shingles. However, this risk is very small. For more information, go to What are the risks of shingles during pregnancy?

What if I have had chickenpox?

If you’ve already had chickenpox, it’s extremely unlikely that you will get it again.

 

How are chickenpox and shingles connected?

Chickenpox and shingles are both caused by the same virus: herpes varicella-zoster virus (VZV).

In some people, after they’ve had chickenpox, VZV can become active again later in life, when it causes shingles. You cannot catch shingles from someone else.

If you’re not immune to VZV, it’s possible to catch chickenpox from someone with shingles. However, this risk is very small.

 

What are the risks of shingles during pregnancy?

If you get shingles when you’re pregnant, it’s usually mild and there’s no risk to you or your unborn baby. However, you should avoid contact with other pregnant women.

How do you get shingles?

You can only get shingles if you’ve already had chickenpox because they’re both caused by the same virus: the herpes varicella-zoster virus (VZV).

After you recover from chickenpox, VZV stays in your body. The virus can become active again in the form of shingles if, for example, your immune system is low. This can happen at any time after you have chickenpox, sometimes years later.

Shingles is most common in people over 50, although younger people can also get it.

Can I catch shingles from someone else?

No. You can’t catch shingles from someone else who has the condition.

Can I catch chickenpox from someone who has shingles?
If you’re not immune to VZV, it’s possible to catch chickenpox from someone who has shingles. However, the risk is very low, particularly if the person’s rash is covered, for example, by clothing or a dressing.

In shingles, VZV is usually passed on by direct contact, for example, by touching an infected person’s open blisters.

The risk of passing on VZV is higher if the person’s rash is widespread, or it’s on an exposed part of their body, such as their face.

What if I’ve already had chickenpox?

Most pregnant women in the UK had chickenpox as a child and are immune to VZV.

If you’re immune to VZV, you can’t catch chickenpox again from someone with shingles.

What if I get shingles?

If you get shingles while you’re pregnant, avoid contact with other pregnant women in case they’re not immune to VZV. You should also keep your rash covered because you’ll be infectious until your last blister has scabbed over.

When to get medical advice

You should contact 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.

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