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Chicken pox and pregnancy

If a pregnant woman contracts chicken pox, it also creates health risks for the unborn child.

If chicken pox occurs during early pregnancy (the first trimester), the baby could suffer from congenital varicella syndrome and have multiple birth defects such as scarring on the skin, abnormalities in limbs, brain and eyes, and low birth weight.

If the disease develops closer to the end of the pregnancy (from 5 days before delivery to 2 days after delivery), it can lead to severe chicken pox in the newborn as the baby is unable to fend off the disease. It can even be fatal.

Chicken pox and shingles

If you’ve had chicken pox in the past, you can still get it again but in a slightly different form. This condition is a painful skin rash called shingles (also known as herpes zoster) and it’s caused by the same varicella-zoster virus responsible for chicken pox. Shingles is less contagious than chicken pox.

After a chicken pox infection, your immune system never fully eradicates the virus. Some of it will lie dormant in the roots of your nerve cells. For reasons still unknown, the virus may resurface as shingles in certain people. A weakened immune system may play a part in the reactivation of the virus.

Risk factors for shingles include a compromised immune system, being over 60 years of age and undergoing high stress.

Shingles cause a lot of distress as it is associated with significant pain over the site of the rash, which can persist weeks to months after the actual rash resolves.

Chicken pox vaccine: The best way to protect yourself if you’ve never had chicken pox before

The best way to protect yourself against chicken pox is to get the chicken pox vaccine, which is expected to provide life-long immunity. However, check with your doctor first if you are:

  • Undergoing chemotherapy or radiation for cancer
  • Taking steroid drugs
  • HIV-positive or have a disease that compromises your immune system
  • A recipient of a recent transfusion of blood or blood products

If you’ve already had chicken pox and are above 50, be sure to talk to your doctor about the shingles vaccine.

For more information on the symptoms and complications of chicken pox, see previous page.

Ref: R14