Chicken pox is a common childhood viral infection afflicting most of us, and unfortunately the most contagious of the lot. Another name for it is varicella zoster, and it belongs to the herpes virus family. If you are pregnant, try to keep away from possible sources because chicken pox in pregnancy can bring harm to your unborn child, especially if you are not immune to it. The good news is once you have had chicken pox you cannot become infected with it again.
Chicken Pox Facts
- Being highly contagious chicken pox can spread by droplets when the infected person coughs, sneezes or even talks, and by direct contact with the blisters
- There is no treatment for this viral infection.
- Chicken pox spreads quickly through playgroups and daycare centers so if you are working closely with children and are pregnant take note.
- Infection is at its peak from 48 hours before the rash appears and up to the point when all the spots crust over.
- Shingles also known as herpes zoster can occur in persons who have had chicken pox before. Unlike chicken pox the skin rash is concentrated in a small area of the body and poses no risk to the developing baby if it should develop during pregnancy.
- If you have had chicken pox before than your body has developed antibodies to it and therefore you and your baby do not stand a chance of becoming affected if you come into contact with someone who has it.
- Women who didn't have chicken pox during childhood and neither received vaccination for it may develop primary chicken pox in pregnancy
- If you are not able to confirm with your parents get a blood test done to check on your immunity. Vaccination before conception and waiting for at least 3 months before becoming pregnant is necessary.
If you develop Chicken Pox while Pregnant
- Avoid contact with other pregnant women or newborns until the rashes have crusted over.
- Avoid primary secondary infection by keeping the rash areas clean
- Inform your doctor if you develop respiratory problems or any other symptoms
- Sometimes medications can be prescribed if the treatment is started within 24 hours of the rash developing. The medication will help reduce the duration of fever and other discomforts
- Sometimes hospital treatment becomes necessary if the pregnant lady develops secondary infection
- Pregnant women given the VZIG shot within 96 hours of exposure to varicella can help prevent maternal complications like pneumonia.
Chicken Pox and the Unborn Baby
- Before 20 weeks the risk of developing varicella is the lowest although the damage is more pronounced from weeks 8-20, including eye defects, limb and neurological difficulties, learning disability amongst others.
- Between weeks 20-36 there are no adverse fetal effects but the likelihood of shingles in the first few years of life is high
- After week 36 up to 50% of unborn babies are infected if the mother is infected and half of that number will go on to develop chicken pox at birth
- Chicken pox is most severe in the baby if the mother comes down with it nearing delivery or within days after birth. If a newborn develops chicken pox it can be fatal. IV drugs to speed up rash healing, immune recovery and transference of antibodies from mother to baby will be immediately executed. The very ill baby will need to be cared for in the special care baby unit. (Fortunately chicken pox in adults is rare.)
- Being a serious disease for the newborn, the infection can be contained if baby is given an injection containing chicken pox antibodies (varicella-zoster immune globulin or VZIG) right after birth