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Chicken Pox and Pregnancy


Updated August 13, 2009

Chicken pox, also known as varicella, is a very contagious viral infection. First most people find that they have a fever and aches all over their body, much like the flu. The next day a rash breaks out. This rash is typically small pimples that are raised, fluid filled and very itchy.

It is estimated that 95% of women of childbearing age are already immune to chicken pox, though about 1 in 2,000 pregnant women still get chicekn pox during pregnancy. This is due to a combination of having contracted the disease in childhood and the current vaccines. You can request blood work from your doctor or midwife, called a titer, to see if you are already immune to chicken pox. Once you have had chicken pox it is highly unlikely that you will have them again.

If you are exposed to chicken pox in pregnancy contact your practitioner. First you will be checked for immunity. If you are not immune and the exposure was in the last four days you are eligible to get a zoster immune globulin (ZIG) injection. It generally takes between 13-15 days for symptoms to show and people are contagious before they have symptoms.

If you contract chicken pox there is a chance that your baby will have some birth defects. In the first trimester, that risk is about 1% from the beginning of the second trimester until about 20 weeks, the risk is 2% These birth defects can include:

  • scars from where the pox were
  • poor growth, including a small head
  • developmental delays
  • eye problems
  • mental retardation

If you have chicken pox just before you give birth there is a 20-25% chance that your baby will have chicken pox, known as congenital varicella.

If you are still in the planning stages of trying to get pregnant, consider a chicken pox vaccine if you are not already immune to chicken pox.

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