What You Should Know About Chickenpox

If you're around kids at all during your pregnancy -- whether at home, at work or just at the grocery store -- you might get exposed to chickenpox.
Chickenpox is caused by the Varicella zoster virus and is usually mild -- but it may be severe in infants, adults and persons with impaired immune systems.

However, according to the Minnesota Women's Health Consortium, it is possible to have a titre drawn (blood test) to determine your immunity. Short of that, "Since chickenpox is easily transmitted, pregnant moms who are not immune should, if possible, stay away from infected persons."

If you haven't already had the virus or been immunized against it, there's a 90 percent chance you will get this highly contagious bug (if exposed to an infected family member), according to William Cusick, MD, associate director of maternal-fetal medicine at Stamford Hospital in Stamford, Connecticut. Chickenpox is highly contagious, and an estimated 4 million cases occur each year. The virus spread from person to person by direct contact, or through the air. It's contagious 1-2 days before the rash appears and until all blisters have formed scabs. The reaction develops within 10-21 days after contact with an infected person. The majority of the cases occur in the late winter and spring.

"Exposed pregnant women without protective antibodies can receive an injection (VZIG -- varicella zoster immunoglobulin) that may prevent or lessen the chickenpox infection," notes Dr Cusick. You should get this injection within 72 hours of exposure for it to be effective. If you do get the pox, it will probably be an uncomfortable experience with skin lesions and itching. This immune globulin made from plasma from healthy, volunteer blood donors with high levels of antibody to the varicella zoster virus, and is recommended after exposure for persons at high risk for complications -- which includes pregnant women.

But what about your baby? Should you develop symptoms, the MWHC notes that there is a small risk of problems to your baby, particularly if this occurs early in the pregnancy or close to delivery. In that instance, be sure to inform your healthcare provider. Dr Cusick says, "The majority of infants born to women with pregnancies complicated by acute chickenpox infection will harbor no ill effects due to the virus. However, a small percentage (0 to 9 percent, average 2 percent) of fetuses exposed to chickenpox early in pregnancy may have skin, digit, growth and/or eye abnormalities due to the maternal infection."

Chickenpox has a characteristic itchy rash, which then forms blisters that dry and become scabs in 4-5 days. The rash may be the first sign of illness, sometimes coupled with fever and general malaise which is usually more severe in adults. An infected person may have anywhere from only a few lesions, to more than 500 lesions on their body during an attack (average 300-400).

If you're not immune -- or if you're not sure -- talk to your caregiver about a safety plan.PregnancyAndBaby.com

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