Chickenpox is a mild, but highly infectious
disease that mainly affects children. After having chickenpox, you develop an immunity to the
disease making it rare (although not impossible) to get the condition again. Adults rarely get chickenpox, but when they do, the symptoms tend to be more severe.
Chickenpox occurs in approximately three in every 1,000 pregnancies. However, most pregnant women (approximately 90%) are immune to the virus because they had it as a child.
If you know that you've never had chickenpox, or you are unsure whether you have, then you may need a
blood test to check to see whether you are producing the antibodies which protect the body from the chickenpox virus.
blood test result shows that you do have the antibodies, then you will naturally be protected from the virus. If you do not have the antibodies, then you will require close monitoring, in case symptoms develop.
If you have had chickenpox and you get shingles (when the chickenpox virus becomes re-activated in your system) while you are pregnant, your baby is not at risk from chickenpox.
If you develop chickenpox while you are pregnant, you may have to take an
antiviral medicine, known as aciclovir. This ideally needs to be started within 24 hours of your rash appearing. It does not cure chickenpox, but does make the symptoms less severe.
You will normally have to take this medicine five times a day (at four hourly intervals) for seven days. If you are taking aciclovir, you should make sure you drink plenty of fluids.
While you have chickenpox, you are infectious from about two days before the rash appears until roughly five days after. You should stay at home until all of your blisters have fully crusted over, which usually occurs 5-7 days after the first blister appears.
If you're pregnant, chickenpox can occasionally cause complications for both you and your baby. The risk of you developing pneumonia (
inflammation of the
lungs) is slightly higher if you are pregnant. Up to 1 in 10 women with chickenpox develop this condition.
Although the risk to your unborn baby is small, chickenpox can affect your baby in different ways, depending on what stage of the pregnancy you are in. The effects of these stages are outlined below.
The first 20 weeks
If your baby is infected with chickenpox in the first 20 weeks of your pregnancy, there is a risk that your child could develop a condition known as fetal varicella syndrome. However, this syndrome is rare, and the risk of it occurring in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy is less than 1%. Between 13 and 20 weeks, the risk is 2%.
Although rare, this syndrome can cause serious complications including:
- scarring of the skin,
- eye defects, such as cataracts, which causes the lens in the eye to cloud over,
- shortened limbs, and
After 37 weeks
If you contract chickenpox after 37 weeks, your child is at risk of being born with chickenpox. The risk of your baby being born prematurely is also slightly increased.
If you develop chickenpox seven days before, or seven days after giving birth, your newborn baby may develop a more serious type of chickenpox, which in a small number of cases can be fatal.
You are at greater risk of complications if you catch chickenpox when you are pregnant if:
- you smoke, or
- you have a
disease such as bronchitis or emphysema, or
- you are taking
steroids or have done so in the last three months.
See your doctor urgently if you are pregnant and think you may have chickenpox. The same advice applies if you think you have chickenpox within seven days of giving birth. This is so that any necessary precautions can be made to prevent you or your baby developing any further complications.