Shingles & Pregnancy
Some Facts About Shingles And Pregnancy
Shingles and pregnancy are two things one definitely does not want to experience at the same time. The very thought of it can be frightening, but if we look more closely, the situation may not be as serious as feared. Obviously the expectant mother has enough to be concerned about without adding shingle to the mix, and if it happens, it is certainly going to cause a great deal of added discomfort.
Chicken Pox Is The Real Danger - The real fear however, is what the effects of shingles and pregnancy might have on the unborn child. The danger it turns out, is not one of the fetus or newborn contracting shingles, but chicken pox. That is not to say that if a pregnant woman contracts shingles, she doesn't need to do anything about it. There is always a risk of the uncommon occurrence happening, but shingles is usually not the true villain.
The Shingles – Chicken Pox Relationship - The first question to ask is whether the pregnant woman has ever had chicken pox. Most people have had this childhood disease, but many have not. If the woman has never had chicken pox, she cannot get shingles. One has to have been infected with chicken pox first. What then if the woman has had the chicken pox earlier in life. She is certainly a candidate for shingles. However, this disease primarily strikes people who are in their senior years. One of the conditions which favors the shingles virus, herpes zoster, is a weakened immune system, a condition more common among the elderly, and not so common among reasonably healthy people of child-bearing age. There is always the exception of course, but what is of interest here is not the risk of the mother-to-be getting shingles, but the risks involved if she actually contracts the disease.
A baby can contract certain infectious diseases from its mother that are passed to it through the bloodstream while it is still a fetus. It can also contract an infectious disease during birth and delivery. In either case, the baby's immune system has not fully developed, and the presence of any infectious disease could be devastating. While in the womb, the fetus is usually protected by the mother's immune system, but once out in the world, it may be unable to cope with an infection.
A woman who develops shingles during her pregnancy has already had chickenpox at some point in her life, and her immune system prevents a recurrence of this disease. The same immune system protects the baby while it is still in the womb. If she has not had chicken pox, her immune system is not prepared to protect her or the fetus from the disease, but at the same time, the woman cannot get shingles. The danger to the unborn baby, is if the woman contracts the chickenpox.
Precautions To Take - Obviously, a pregnant woman who has not had chicken pox should avoid those who have it as much as possible, which of course could be difficult if she has children who come down with the disease. Equally important however, a pregnant woman should avoid coming into contact with a person who has shingles. She will not get shingles from that person, shingles does not spread from person to person, but she can get the chicken pox. And therein lies the danger to the baby.
If a woman does come down with shingles during pregnancy, it is of course imperative that treatment be sought. There are antiviral medicines available, many of which are considered to be safe as far as the unborn baby is concerned. Should the fetus become infected, pediatric shingles could result, and there is the possibility of birth defects. Both conditions are somewhat rare, but all possible precautions should still be taken. To summarize, the main precautions are to avoid those with chicken pox, if the woman hasn't yet had it, and avoid those with shingles as well.