Chickenpox in Pregnancy

by Rachel Mackenzie, SSN, Practice Nurse Developer

What is Chickenpox?

Chickenpox is a very contagious infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus. It mainly affects kids, but adults can get it, too. The telltale sign of chickenpox is a super-itchy skin rash with red blisters. Over the course of several days, the blisters pop and start to leak. Then they crust and scab over before finally healing.

person with chickenpox on back

Symptoms appear within 10 to 21 days after you’ve been in contact with someone who has the virus. Most people recover in about 2 weeks.

Chickenpox is generally mild, especially in children. But in severe cases, the blisters can spread to your nose, mouth, eyes, and even genitals.

Adults have a higher risk for developing complications from chickenpox than children. Those with weakened immune systems due to cancer, HIV, or those patients that are pregnant.

Once a patient has had chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus stays in your nerve cells for years. It can “wake up” and become active again years later. It can lead to shingles, a condition that causes painful blisters. 

Chickenpox in pregnancy

Varicella, the primary infection with Varicella Zoster Virus (VZV), in pregnancy may cause maternal mortality or serious morbidity. It may cause Fetal Varicella Syndrome (VFS). 

VFS includes eye defects, hypoplasia of the limbs and neurological abnormalities. There is a higher risk before 20 weeks of gestation. Delivery during the viraemic period may be extremely hazardous, both to the mother and to the newborn. 

VZV is a virus of the herpes family and is highly contagious. The incubation period is 7-21 days. The disease is infectious 48 hours before the rash appears and continues to be infectious until the vesicles crust over. 

Non-immune health care workers who are exposed to infection should be warned they may develop chicken pox. 

Any patient with signs of varicella should be given a side room and the room should be deep cleaned. 

All pregnant healthcare workers should avoid contact with any patients who may have varicella.  

Further Reading

Green-top Guideline No.13 from the RCOG – https://www.rcog.org.uk/globalassets/documents/guidelines/gtg13.pdf


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