Shingles and Pregnancy (cont.)
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Shingles Prevention: Reduce Your Risk
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The varicella-zoster virus is highly contagious. If you have not had chickenpox, it's important that you avoid exposure to anyone known to have the infection -- or even crowds where you may come in contact with the infection, particularly if you are pregnant. If you already had chickenpox, you cannot catch shingles from someone with chickenpox or shingles.
Having chickenpox during pregnancy could potentially lead to chickenpox infection or birth defects in your unborn child, depending on when you are infected. Shingles, too, could potentially cause problems for your baby, but most experts agree the risk is less than with chickenpox. In one large study, there was no evidence of fetal harm in women who developed shingles.
If you're not sure if you have had chickenpox, your doctor can perform a blood test to check for antibodies to VZV. If you have the antibodies (indicating you have already had chickenpox infection), you run the risk of shingles in the future, but you cannot catch shingles from someone else.
There is also a vaccine called Zostavax that can help prevent shingles. In clinical studies, the vaccine reduced the overall occurrence of shingles by half. For people who were vaccinated and got shingles anyway, the severity was dramatically reduced. But the time to get the vaccine is before you get pregnant. The vaccine's manufacturer recommends waiting at least three months after getting the vaccine before attempting to become pregnant.
Shingles Complications During Pregnancy
Shingles can be quite painful. Many people who see their doctor for shingles say it was the pain that ultimately led them to seek treatment. Some report that the sensation of anything brushing across the inflamed nerve endings on the skin is almost unbearable. Even when the rash is gone, postherpetic neuralgia can persist, sometimes for years.
Shingles can cause other lasting complications as well. If it occurs on the face, it can damage your eyes. Shingles of the eye can lead to scarring, which can damage your vision. It can also lead to glaucoma, an eye disease that can cause blindness later in life.
Shingles can also cause hearing or balance problems as well as weakness of the muscles on the affected side of the face. In rare cases, shingles can spread into the brain or spinal cord and cause serious complications such as stroke or meningitis (an infection of the membranes outside the brain and spinal cord).
According to the CDC, more than one-third of people who get shingles will develop serious complications. People whose immune systems are suppressed because of medication or diseases such as HIV run the greatest risk of complications. Complications are also more common among people over age 60, which precludes women of childbearing age. Nevertheless, if a shingles outbreak affects your eye or you notice any symptoms outside of the area of the outbreak, you should speak to your doctor right away.
The Bottom Line for You and Your Baby
The incidence of shingles in pregnant women is very low. If you are planning to get pregnant and are concerned about shingles, speak to your doctor about the possibility of the shingles vaccine. If you are already pregnant, practice healthy habits and let your doctor know if you have any symptoms. Early recognition and treatment will minimize the risk of complications for you and your baby.
WebMD Medical Reference
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD, on July 10, 2009
Last Editorial Review: 7/10/2009 11:07:51 AM
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Shingles and Pregnancy - Symptoms and Diagnosis Question: Please describe the symptoms that led to a diagnosis of shingles while you were pregnant.
Shingles and Pregnancy - Treatment Question: How did you treat shingles pain and itching during your pregnancy?
Shingles and Pregnancy - Prevention Question: How did you prevent the risk of shingles during your pregnancy?