Exposure To Shingles While Pregnant: Are You At Risk And How To Avoid It?

Exposure To Shingles While Pregnant

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In this post, Momjunction tells you under what circumstances you get shingles during pregnancy, how you can deal with it and ways to prevent the problem.

What Is Shingles?

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a viral disease caused by the virus Varicella Zoster. It is the same virus that causes chickenpox. Shingles leads to an outburst of painful rashes and blisters on the skin (1 , 2).

The virus affects people:

  • Who had chickenpox in the past; the virus remains dormant in the nerve cells and becomes active later.
  • With weakened immunity level due to HIV infection, treatments like chemotherapy, transplantations, poor nutrition, stress, and medications such as corticosteroids.

Now you know that you are likely to get shingles only if you had chickenpox in the past. But what causes the virus to become active once more?

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[ Read: Chickenpox Treatment During Pregnancy ]

What Causes Shingles During Pregnancy?

It is not known why the virus Varicella Zoster remains dormant in one’s body and becomes re-active after several years. But your weak immune system during pregnancy gives the virus a chance to raise its head once again.

You are at the risk of catching this infectious disease if (3):

  • You had chickenpox in your childhood or recently.
  • You come in contact with a person with shingles during its contagious phase.
  • You are not vaccinated against the virus.

If you tick on one or more of the above conditions, then it is good to keep a track on the symptoms of the disease.

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Symptoms Of Shingles

Here are the symptoms of shingles:

Early stage:

  • Headaches
  • Numbness in affected area
  • Blisters on skin with pin-pricking pain

Second stage:

  • Itching and tingling felt all over the body
  • Tenderness or swelling in certain areas
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty in passing urine
  • Change in voice

Third stage:

  • A sudden appearance of rashes or cluster of painful blisters around the torso, neck, and face
  • Rashes spreading to ears, eyes, and nose
  • Specific distribution pattern of rashes over the body
  • Erosion of lesions

The blisters dry up in seven to ten days, and the episode of shingles ends in around two to four weeks (4).

Shingles is closely related to chickenpox. As their symptoms are also similar, you may not be able to differentiate between the two. Therefore, see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

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[ Read: Hives During Pregnancy ]

Diagnosis Of Shingles In Pregnant Women

If you are pregnant and notice any of the above-mentioned symptoms, then make sure to see your doctor. Your doctor will:

  • Ask if you had chickenpox in the past.
  • Send your tissue samples to the laboratory for testing.

If the tests confirm shingles, then the doctor will recommend some pregnancy-safe medications to address the problem.

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Treatment For Shingles

Generally, prescription and over-the-counter medications are given for treating shingles.

  • Antivirals such as acyclovir (Zovirax), valacyclovir (Valtrex), or famciclovir (Famvir) in early pregnancy. These are taken within 72 hours of the appearance of a rash (5). The medications will be recommended only if the pain does not get reduced through painkillers (6).
  • Painkillers such as acetaminophen or paracetamol for mild to moderate pain (7).
  • Antihistamine medications such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) help reduce itching.

However, these drugs are prescribed only if their benefits outweigh the likely side-effects they can have on your health. As shingles is not a serious condition, the doctor might suggest you take home care measures rather than try any drugs.

Self-care:

  • Use cold and wet compresses over the rashes or blisters.
  • Take cool baths.
  • Apply calamine lotion to the affected area to soothe the itching.
  • Use non-sticky bandages, and change them every day.
  • Wear loose clothes for good air circulation.

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[ Read: PUPPP Rash During Pregnancy ]

Prevention Of Shingles During Pregnancy

The only way to prevent shingles is to get the vaccine Zostavax. However, you cannot take it during pregnancy and should not get pregnant at least up to four weeks after taking the vaccine. (8).

  • Also, keep away from people who have shingles or chickenpox. If somebody at your home has it, shift to your friend or family member’s place, or take every care to not touch the infected person, their clothes, utensils and other things.
  • Avoid crowded places, especially when the infection is rampant in the region.
  • You may also have a shot of chickenpox vaccine before getting pregnant, if you haven’t had it before.

Read on as we answer a few common questions to-be-mothers have on shingles.

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Frequently Asked Questions

1. Does shingles during pregnancy pose a risk to my baby?

Shingles does not pose a risk to your baby. Two research studies have shown that the babies do not tend to have congenital varicella syndrome or any adverse effect (9). Newborns are not at risk even if the mother gets shingles near to her delivery.

2. Is shingles contagious?

Shingles is not contagious. But, you can catch chickenpox, which is riskier than shingles as it can cause birth defects in babies. The virus usually gets transmitted if:

  • The rashes are widespread (10). However, in the early stages, if the rashes remain covered, the chances of spreading the infection are low.
  • You touch the person’s open blisters.

3. What if my husband has shingles when I am pregnant?

You will not contract shingles if you have got a dose of vaccination anytime before getting pregnant. Otherwise, there are chances of you contracting chickenpox from your husband. Call the doctor, and follow every possible precaution to keep the infection away.

[ Read: Types Of Rashes In Pregnancy ]

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Shingles may not be a life-threatening disease, and it does not affect your baby. However, the rashes and the other symptoms make it difficult for you to deal with it, especially because it takes weeks to recover from the condition. Moreover, you might suffer from postherpetic neuralgia (burning pain of the skin and nerve fibers) for months after the rashes are gone. Therefore, take precautions if somebody in your vicinity has this infection.

Do you have any tips to share? Let us know in the comment section.

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shreeja pillai

Postgraduate in Chemistry and content writer. She has worked as a research analyst with a leading multinational pharmaceutical company and also holds a diploma in pharmaceutical regulatory affairs. Her interest in the field of medical research has developed her passion for writing research-based articles. She is a writer for MomJunction and aims at providing informative articles based on health and wellness. Apart from writing, she takes a great interest in music and traveling. know more about her at https://www.linkedin.com/in/shreeja-pillai/
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