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Exposure to chicken-pox during pregnancy



Chicken-pox is also known as Varicella disease. The classic chicken pox is caused by the same virus that causes shingles. In fact, shingles is a reactivation of an old chicken-pox infection. This is because when you have been infected with the chicken pox virus, it stays in the body for life. That is the case with most people.


If you know that you have been exposed to chicken-pox during pregnancy, you need to hchicken pox (varicella)ave your immunity checked.


You will probably know whether you have had chicken-pox in the past. If that is the case, then you are in the clear. 90% of all women of child-bearing age are immune, by virtue of previous infection, and therefore exposure during pregnancy poses no risk to their babies. This of course leaves one in ten who are susceptible.


Susceptible women exposed to chicken-pox

If a pregnant woman is exposed to chicken-pox and goes on to acquire the infection, there is a 14%(1 in 7) risk of pulmonary (lung) involvement. This is a serious complications and in rare cases can be fatal.


The potential effects on the fetus depend on the gestation.The known effects to the baby will occur in about 10% of babies if the infection is in the first twelve weeks of gestation. The so-called fetal varicella syndrome will affect about 1 in 70 of those affected in the first and second trimesters.

The potential damage is less if the infection occurs later. The exception to this is if the baby is born within the period when the infection is still active.


Fetal varicella syndrome

Features of the syndrome could be a few or more of these:

· Large patches of skin scarring

· Small head (microcephaly)

· Eye complications, including cataracts and scarring inside the eye

· Paralysis of limbs

· Deformed, even absent fingers and/or toes

· Convulsions.

It is important to remember that only a small proportion of babies (1.4%) whose mothers acquired the infection in pregnancy will be affected. It is also true that the later the infection in pregnancy, the milder the fetal effect.


In some cases, babies are found to have no identifiable effect and may only suffer shingles later on in infancy or early childhood.












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A typical chicken-pox skin rash

By Dr Joe Kabyemela, MD