Chickenpox can often be self-treated, but if chickenpox and pregnancy are a concern, there are ways to protect you and your baby if you are at risk for chickenpox during pregnancy.
What is chickenpox?
Chickenpox is a viral infection also called varicella. It is accompanied by a rash, which appears as small reddish spots or pimples. A fever and body aches usually occur before the rash appears. In most cases, chickenpox is contracted during childhood, although there are some instances when an adult is not immune and contracts chicken pox. About 95% of women in their childbearing years are immune to chicken pox.
Who is most at risk of getting chickenpox during pregnancy?
- If you have been infected with chickenpox once before, then you are most likely immune to chickenpox.
- If you have NOT been infected with chickenpox and are pregnant, you may be at risk for contracting the virus. You will want to avoid contact with anyone who has chickenpox.
- If you are not sure if you have ever been infected with chickenpox, your doctor can perform a blood test to determine if you have the chickenpox antibodies. If the test shows that you have antibodies, you are immune to chickenpox.
How will my baby be affected if I have chickenpox?
How your baby will be affected depends on how far along you are in your pregnancy.
According to the Organization for Teratology Information Service (OTIS):
- If chickenpox occurs within the first trimester, the risk of birth defects is 0.5-1 percent.
- If chickenpox occurs within the 13th and 20th week, the risk of birth defects is 2 percent.
- If chickenpox occurs within 5 days or less of delivery or 1-2 days after delivery, there is a 20-25% chance that your baby will develop chickenpox, known as congenital varicella.
- If chickenpox occurs within 6-12 days before delivery, there is a chance that the baby can still get chickenpox. In this case, your baby may receive some of your newly made chickenpox antibodies, which will cause congenital varicella to be mild.
Possible birth defects may include scars, eye problems, poor growth, small head size, delayed development, and/or mental retardation.
What can I do to protect my baby?
- If you have had chickenpox before, then there is nothing you need to do to protect your baby during pregnancy. Your body should have antibodies that protect you from contracting chickenpox; therefore, your baby will be protected.
- If you have not had chickenpox before and are pregnant, you may receive the shot of zoster immune globulin (ZIG) when you come in contact with someone who has chickenpox. ZIG must be given within 4 days of first exposure. This is only given if you do not already have the antibodies against chicken pox.
- You can get a chickenpox vaccine if you do not have the chickenpox antibodies and you are not pregnant. You must wait 3 months before trying to conceive.
Can someone get chickenpox twice?
It is rare that a person will contract chicken pox twice, but those with immune problems are at an elevated risk of a second infection. There are also cases where people think they had chickenpox when they were younger, when in fact it was a rash or something else.
Want to Know More?
Compiled using information from the following sources:
1. Organization of Teratology Information Services
2. Williams Obstetrics Twenty-Second Ed. Cunningham, F. Gary, et al, Ch. 46.