Shingles and pregnancy

Shingles and Pregnancy

Shingles is a viral condition involving inflammation of sensory nerves that can result in severe pain. It causes localized pain, numbness and itching followed by the appearance of clustered blisters in a strip pattern usually on one side of the body or face. The characteristic rash of shingles starts as small blisters on a red base. New blisters continue to form for three to five days. The pain can persist for many weeks, sometimes longer.

Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox (varicella) a member of the herpes family of viruses. After a person has contracted chickenpox, the virus can live dormant in the nervous system for life. Sometimes the virus remains dormant forever, but in other cases, the virus reactivates along the nerve of sensation.

Usually the cause for the reactivation of the virus is never found but those with a weakened immune system, stress and being over the age of sixty puts you at an increased risk.

Similar to the blisters of chickenpox, the blisters in shingles eventually burst and the area starts to ooze. The blisters will then crust over and heal. Before the blisters crust over, the Varicella virus can spread to anyone who is not immune to chickenpox including children and babies. You would need to come into direct contact with the lesions in order to acquire the virus. If you have had chickenpox you cannot catch shingles from another person.

Whilst there is a shingles vaccine available, this is only recommended for those people over the age of sixty. Pregnant women should not receive the shingles vaccine as it contains live, weakened virus particles.

Whilst pregnant women are susceptible to shingles, it is extremely rare. If you do develop shingles, antiviral medications and pain-relieving medication are safe to take.

At your initial antenatal consultation or at a pre pregnancy consultation, one of the blood tests that we organise is to check to see if you are immune to chickenpox. If you are immune, there is no risk to you if you come into contact with someone who has chickenpox or shingles. If you are not immune and come into contact with someone who has chickenpox or shingles, we can give you temporary immunity by administering Zoster Immune Globulin. Contracting chickenpox during pregnancy has the potential to cause birth defects depending upon the gestation that you develop the virus.

If you are found not to be immune to chickenpox during the antenatal period, post-delivery we would then immunize you. This immunisation is safe if you are breastfeeding.

Dr Len Kliman is one of Melbourne’s most experienced and respected obstetricians and gynaecologists.

With over three decades of experience, Dr Kliman has treated tens of thousands of gynaecological patients and delivered more than 20,000 babies and still counting!

In 2017, Dr Kliman was awarded an Order of Australia for his services to obstetrics and gynaecology.