What to do if you're exposed to chickenpox during pregnancy

Chickenpox during pregnancy can cause serious complications. Here’s what you need to know.

28 November 2014
by Jennifer Campbell

What do you do if your child has chickenpox and you're pregnant; is your unborn baby at risk? If you have already had chickenpox, the good news is that you are immune to the virus and your unborn baby is not at risk. Dr Gary Groenewald, a gynaecologist and obstetrician, explains, “Once a person has been infected with chickenpox the virus becomes dormant in the nerve roots. There is the possibility of reactivation in the form of shingles, but this is extremely uncommon in people who have a normally functioning immune system.”

Your unborn baby may be at risk of FVS

However, if you haven’t had chickenpox before and you contract the virus while you’re pregnant, your unborn baby may be at risk of Fetal Varicella Syndrome (FVS). “FVS is characterised by skin scarring, eye defects, foetal limb abnormalities and neurological defects,” says Dr Groenwald.

If you contract chickenpox in the first 28 weeks of pregnancy, the risk of developing FVS is very small. “The most significant risk exists when the mother is infected with chickenpox at term. Elective delivery should be delayed for five to seven days after the onset of the rash to allow maternal immunity to be transferred to the baby,” says Dr Groenewald.

Dr Groenewald warns pregnant women who haven’t had chickenpox or who haven’t been vaccinated to avoid contact with people who have chickenpox. If you do contract it while you’re pregnant, he recommends you see a healthcare practitioner immediately. “Women should be given the antiviral agent, acyclovir, if they see a doctor within 24 hours of the onset of the skin rash and are over 20 weeks pregnant,” says Dr Groenewald.

If a woman gives birth in the first seven days following the onset of the chickenpox rash, or develops the rash in the first seven days after birth, the baby should be given varicella antibodies. The newborn should also be monitored for signs of infection for 28 days after the onset of maternal infection.

Have you been vaccinated?

If you can’t remember whether or not you had chickenpox as a child, there’s a simple blood test that can be done to determine immunity. If you’re not immune, Dr Groenewald recommends getting vaccinated. He warns, however, that one should avoid falling pregnant for three months after the administration of the vaccine – and don’t get vaccinated if you’re already pregnant.

How Clicks Clinics can help you

If you’re uncertain about your vaccination history, or if you would like to get your child vaccinated, visit your nearest Clicks Clinic, and speak to one of our trained healthcare professionals about the measles vaccine. To book an appointment, call 0860 254 257 or book online at Clicks Clinics.

IMAGE CREDIT: 123rf.com