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Chickenpox exposure in pregnancy should be avoided

Exposure to infectious diseases should generally be avoided if at all possible. This is more so in pregnancy as infectious diseases may pose complications both to the mother and her unborn baby. Chickenpox is one such infection, pregnant mothers should as much as possible avoid contact with anybody infected with chickenpox.

Chickenpox is a childhood viral illness, usually causing mild symptoms that include fever and a rash. Childhood chickenpox infection confers lifelong immunity, meaning that one cannot get infected a second time. People living in the tropics are less likely to have had chickenpox in childhood. Infection in adulthood tends to be more serious. A chickenpox vaccine is available for the non-immune, but cannot be given in pregnancy.

Chickenpox risk in pregnancy depends on the stage of the pregnancy at the time of infection. The mother may suffer severe symptoms necessitating hospital admission, while the baby is also at risk. If exposed very early, there is a small risk of damage to the growing baby’s eyes, brain, limbs and abdominal organs. If the infection occurs between 28 and 36 weeks of pregnancy, the growing baby does not usually suffer untoward effects. But after 36 weeks and around the time of birth, the baby may become severely infected with chickenpox necessitating treatment after the birth.

There is thus enough reasons to avoid potential exposure, especially if unsure about having had childhood infection. Mothers at risk of exposure tend to be the ones working with children in day care centres, nurseries, schools and in hospitals. If working in such set-ups during pregnancy, one should request temporary relief from duty to avoid contact with any infected children.

What if one inadvertently gets into contact with an infected individual? If it’s clear one suffered childhood chickenpox infection, then nothing needs to be done. If however there is no indication of ever having had chickenpox, or there is any doubt, one should immediately contact their Obstetrician. The Obstetrician will arrange some blood tests to confirm immunity. For those not immune, an injection may be given to reduce the chance of getting infected. If infection has already set in and blisters have developed, treatment with anti-viral tablets may be given. One should avoid contact with other pregnant women or small babies in order to avoid passing on the infection.

The timing of delivery following infection with chickenpox depends on individual circumstances. It’s best to delay delivery till recovery, and this also gives a chance for immunity to develop and pass into the unborn baby.

Breastfeeding is safe once the baby is born. The baby however would need an eye examination and blood tests. If infected, the baby would also need specific treatment. A blood test seven months later can confirm development of chickenpox immunity in the baby.

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Exposure to infectious diseases should generally be avoided if at all possible. This is more so in pregnancy as infectious diseases may pose complications both to the mother and her unborn baby. Chickenpox is one such infection, pregnant mothers should as much as possible avoid contact with anybody infected with chickenpox.

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