Chickenpox and pregnant women – what are the risks?

Chickenpox can cause problems for anyone who catches it while pregnant (Picture: Getty Images)

While unpleasant, chickenpox is a mild illness for the majority of people who catch it.

The highly contagious virus, which causes sufferers to break out in spots, is more common in children than adults – with 90% of people having had it by the age of 15.

However there are some circumstances when it could potentially be more serious, especially if you catch it in adulthood.

With that in mind, what are the risks for pregnant women when it comes to chickenpox?

Pregnant women and chickenpox – what are the risks?

Chickenpox can cause serious complications both for you and your unborn baby if you catch it while you are pregnant.

These could include developing pneumonia, encephalitis, or hepatitis – and in rare cases could even prove fatal.

According to the NCT, the risk is increased if you smoke, have a lung condition, have taken steroids in the past three months or are more than 20 weeks pregnant.

portrait of the young woman with the face covered with chickenpox

Chickenpox is less common among adults (Picture: Getty Images)

If you are expecting a baby and you have not had chickenpox, you should avoid contact with anyone who has the virus, or who has shingles – and get medical advice immediately if this does happen.

The NHS website states that if you do get it while pregnant, you should contact NHS 111 for medical advice – and that treatment will depend on what stage of the pregnancy you are at, as well as your symptoms.

If you’re more than 20 weeks pregnant, your GP may offer you aciclovir, an anti-viral medicine which will make your symptoms less severe.

You should also make sure you remain hydrated, use soothing creams or lotions to help with the spots and the itching – such as calamine lotion for example – and take paracetamol if you have a temperature or other symptoms such as aches and pains.

When should you go to hospital with chickenpox?

If you do develop complications you may need to go to hospital – you should seek treatment if you develop any of the following:

  • chest and breathing problems
  • headache, drowsiness, vomiting or feeling sick
  • vaginal bleeding
  • a rash that’s bleeding
  • a severe rash

Can my baby catch chickenpox from me?

If you catch chickenpox while you are pregnant, you could pass it on to your baby in the uterus.

Once you have given birth your GP may consider treating your newborn with varicella zoster immune globulin (VZIG) under the following circumstances:

  • If your baby is born within 7 days of you contracting a chickenpox rash
  • If you develop chickenpox with 7 days of giving birth
  • If your baby’s exposed to chickenpox or shingles within 7 days of birth and they aren’t immune to the chickenpox virus

Your baby may be treated with aciclovir if they develop the virus after birth.

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