Chicken pox in pregnancy

Pregnancy And Chicken Pox

Chicken pox can prove to be fatal if it affects a pregnant woman. It is often associated with other life threatening infections such as chicken pox pneumonia. Chicken pox infection can be dangerous if it affects the pregnant woman during first and second trimester as the however third trimester the mother is more exposed to adverse effects.
If a woman is immunized against chicken pox or has antibodies produced as a consequence of previous varicella infection, she needs not to worry about the notorious infection. The maternal antibodies are transferred to the growing fetus via umbilical cord. Immunized women and their developing fetus are naturally protected against chicken pox.

What Is Chicken Pox Disease?

Chicken pox or varicella is an air borne disease usually transmitted through sneezes or coughs it spreads from infected person to healthy individuals through the crust of blisters or lesions. Varicella is a highly contagious viral infection and is caused by VZV or varicella zoster virus. The virus can be risky when adults contract it, and pregnant women can be put at a higher risk of pre-term birth. The risk of contracting chicken pox in adulthood also exposes one to a condition called chicken pox pneumonia, which can be severe and even life threatening.

What Are The Symptoms Of Chicken Pox?

The varicella symptoms appear around 10 to 21 days after the infection of the virus, and the symptoms are most likely to be noticed between the 14th and 16th day.
The ailment begins with a characteristic skin rash in the form of small itchy blisters scabbing usually appears within a day or two. The rashes appear first on the face, chest and back and subsequently spread to the rest of the body. These bumps on the skin also make you contagious for atleast 48 hours, till the crusts form.
The other common signs and symptoms associated with chicken pox are:

  • Fever
  • Rash or red spots
  • Lassitude or feeling tired, lethargy
  • Headache and bodyaches
  • Abdominal discomfort
Diagnosis Of Chicken Pox In Pregnancy

If you think that you might have contracted the virus, do make an immediate appointment with your doctor. Since the infection is contagious, avoid going to the hospital straight away and risk other patients. The diagnosis of chicken pox is chiefly dependent upon appearance of characteristic rash. However the confirmation of the diagnosis is made by the histopathological examination of the vesicle fluid.

What Complications Are Associated With Chicken Pox In Pregnancy?

The complications of chicken pox include:

  • Chicken Pox Pneumonia
  • Inflammation of brain
  • Bacterial infection of skin
  • Pre-term birth
  • Miscarriage
  • Neonatal chicken pox

Chicken pox in pregnancy

How Does Chicken Pox In Pregnancy Affect The Baby?

Chicken pox infection during pregnancy can affect the fetus via placenta and umbilical cord. If the mother is infected by varicella during 13 and 20 weeks of gestation a serious condition called congenital varicella syndrome affects the fetus. This condition is characterized by underdevelopment of fingers and toes and even bladder and anal malformations.
Varicella can cause following side effects in the developing baby:

  1. Brain damage: It can affect the development of brain and can cause microcephaly, enencephaly, hydrocephaly and aplasia of brain
  2. Eye damage: The viral infection can cause damage optic stalk, lens vesicles, cataract, microphthalmia, optic atrophy, etc.
  3. Neurological problems: Damage to lumbosacral and cervical spinal cord, Horner’s syndrome, etc are also common
  4. Body damage: Damage to lower and upper extremities, dysfunctioning of anal and bladder sphincter, etc are also seen
  5. Skin problems: Skin lesions, hypopigmentation etc. are also noted with varicella infection
Chickenpox During Pregnancy First Trimester

The first trimester is a very risky period of pregnancy when talking about chicken pox. The viral infection can result in potential damage to the fetus. First trimester abortions are very common and frequent uterine bleeding is also common.

What Precautions Can I Take If I Am Not Immune?

You can cut down the risk of catching the viral infection by avoiding those who are infected with chicken pox. Also keep distance from those who have come in contact with the varicella infected people in recent three to four weeks because such people can be carriers of the notorious virus. People who have shingles would also go off your list. If planning a baby, it is best to get yourself tested for immunity for chicken pox.

Chicken Pox Vaccination In Pregnancy

Vaccination is not advised to pregnant women. They can however be vaccinated within a month after the birth of the baby. The second dose of the vaccine can be given within six to eight weeks after the first dose. There is no potential damage in receiving vaccine while you are breastfeeding the baby.
The varicella vaccine protects you by initiating your protective cells to produce antibodies against weakened varicella virus. These antibodies keep you protected against the active harmful invading varicella virus.
No side effect is associated with varicella vaccine; however mild to moderate fever is noted. Sometimes pain and redness is also seen after vaccination. No serious side effects are observed.
The varicella vaccine is not recommended to following people:

  • Expectant mothers because the effect of the vaccine is not properly known
  • People with gelatin allergies are also not advised to take the varicella vaccine as the vaccine contains gelatin
  • People with neomycin allergy
  • People with immune system disorder
  • People taking steroids
Chicken Pox Near Delivery Date

After one contracts chicken pox, the body start making antibodies to fight the infection in about 5 days’ time. If you get infected in early third trimester, your baby will get the antibodies through the placenta, and offer him protection. So the baby may be born with the infection but it would not be serious. However, if you get infected just about a week before the delivery or about 2 days after the birth, the risk to the baby is high. That is because the baby could not get antibodies from you and can be life threatening for the baby. This is known as neonatal varicella, or newborn chicken pox, which, if left untreated, can be serious. The risk of severity can be greatly reduced if the baby is administered a dose varicella zoster immune globulin (VZIG), that contains antibodies to fight chicken pox.