Chicken Pox and PregnancyAnn E. Butenas
If you are not already immune to chicken pox and you are exposed to it during your pregnancy, there is cause for concern. According to Dr. William Sears in his book, The Pregnancy Book: A Month-by-Month Guide, most women are immune to chicken pox, although they might not recall being exposed to it as a child. If you have any doubts or uncertainties about your immunity to this disease, you can always ask your physician to order a blood test to check the level of your immunity. If it is determined you are immune to chicken pox, then no treatment is needed. If you are not immune, the odds are in your favor that neither your baby nor you will contract chicken pox, even if you are exposed.
Dr. Sears notes, however, there exists a small chance that the baby will develop a birth defect as a result of exposure to chicken pox during the first trimester. During the final month of pregnancy, exposure to chicken pox is of even greater concern.
"If a mother becomes ill with chicken pox more than fourteen days prior to delivery, she will produce enough antibodies to pass along to her baby an prevent him from getting chicken pox in the newborn period. But when a mother develops chicken pox within two weeks of giving birth, the baby will be born exposed to the virus but without the benefit of maternal antibodies," explains Dr. Sears. Under these conditions, the baby may develop a serious case of chicken pox. Further, women who have the illness during pregnancy also risk complications such as pneumonia.
If you are not immune to chicken pox and have become exposed to it, your physician may suggest a shot called varicella-zoster immune globulin (VCIG) within four days of exposure to provide antibodies and reduce the risk that the baby will contract chicken pox.
Dr. Sears explains that the current chicken pox vaccine is a live vaccine and recommends it not be given during pregnancy. Therefore, it is best to find out of your immunities to chicken pox before you become pregnant. If you are already pregnant and not immune, it would be wise to get the vaccine shortly after delivery to prevent problems in future pregnancies.
If you are pregnant and have other children who are not immune to the disease, you might want to consider having the chicken pox vaccine administrated to them in an effort to reduce their chances of getting the disease and subsequently passing it on to you. It is important to discuss this issue with your physician and your children's pediatrician.
Reference for this article: Sears, William, M.D. and Martha Sears, R.N., 1997. The Pregnancy Book: A Month-by-Month Guide. Boston. Little, Brown and Company.
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