Shingles exposure during pregnancy

pregnant-womanEvery so often we get a question from a pregnant woman who is concerned because someone in her family (usually a parent or in-law) has shingles. She is worried that she may be at-risk to develop this as well. Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox– the varicella zoster virus (VZV). Once you have had chickenpox, this virus continues to live dormant, inside your body. Sometimes, under conditions of stress or when the immune system is weakened, the virus can be reactivated. When this happens the virus does not cause chickenpox but shingles.

Almost 1 out of every 3 people in the United States will develop shingles. Anyone who has had chickenpox may develop shingles, including pregnant women and even children. But about half of all cases actually occur among people 60 years old or older. There is now a vaccine available for people over age 60 to prevent shingles.

The varicella zoster virus can only be spread by an affected person to someone who has NOT had chickenpox. If this happens, the exposed person will develop chickenpox—not shingles.  Once you have had chickenpox, antibodies are in your system and you cannot get it again, but you will have the potential to develop shingles.

You cannot catch shingles from someone who has shingles. You can, however, catch chickenpox from someone who has shingles. If you are not immune to the varicella zoster virus and you are exposed to someone who has shingles there is a very small chance that you could develop chickenpox. Shingles is not spread through the air and infection can only occur after direct contact with the rash when it is in the blister-phase. A person with shingles is not contagious before the blisters appear or after they scab over.

If you have been exposed to someone with shingles, and you have not had chickenpox or the vaccine, make sure you talk to your health care provider. Shingles is less contagious than chickenpox and the risk of a person with shingles spreading the virus is low if the rash is covered.

Remember, if you have had chickenpox, it is possible to develop shingles during pregnancy. If you do develop shingles, make sure you contact your health care provider right away. The most common symptom is a painful rash on one side of the face or body. The rash forms blisters that typically scab over in 7–10 days and clear up within 2–4 weeks. There is often pain, itching, or tingling in the area where the rash will develop.

Shingles can be quite painful but treatments with antiviral medications are available. These can lessen the severity and reduce the discomforts. And, for women who do develop shingles during pregnancy, the prognosis is good.

Did you know that children can get shingles, too? See our post on shingles, pregnancy and children for more info.

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78 Responses to “Shingles exposure during pregnancy”

  1. MrsSass Says:

    Hi all! I found out I was pregnant on March 10, 2003 only them to remember having had shingles in the end on February (I was 16). So, I was approx 4-6 weeks along during my shingles ‘fun’.
    I was sent to the advanced maternal/fetal medicine clinic at a neighboring hospital for genetic testing (measuring baby’s brain fluid, etc.) and from then on was considered high risk.
    I went in to labor 6 weeks to soon and was placed on bed rest. I do not know if that was due to shingles issues or my age.
    I am now 28, and my husband & I have been trying for another baby. Last evening I developed a painful itchy spot on my back and the whites of my eyes are spotting (not bloodshot). Makes me wonder if I am yet again pregnant and faced with shingles. I have not yet taken a pregnancy test or called my doctor.

  2. sibongile Says:

    Am 24yrs old and 25weeks pregnant. I think an developing chickenpox and an very worried for my child,what should I do?

  3. Sara Says:

    Hi Sibongile. If you think you may be developing chicken pox, please talk to your health care provider right away. He can do a blood test to see if you have any antibodies to the chicken pox virus. Up to 95 percent of women who do not think or know if they ever had chicken pox will have antibodies on a blood test. If you do get chickenpox while you’re pregnant, your HCP can give you an antiviral to help with the symptoms. But the best thing to do is to contact your doctor.

  4. Imee Ward Says:

    Hello! I had shingles in my 9 weeks of pregnancy. I am worried about my baby, will it harmful to my baby? Please help me.. Thank you!

  5. Racter Says:

    Hi. I’m 17 weeks pregnant and I’m diagnose with shingles on my body. I m given Piroton antamin pills and calamine lotion. I’m worried about the virus harming my baby. This is my first pregnancy.

  6. Sara Says:

    Hi Racter and Imee. According to MothertoBaby, “In a large study of chicken pox exposure during pregnancy there was no evidence of fetal harm in 366 pregnant women who developed the shingles.” ( However, it is important to discuss your concerns with your health care provider. He or she will be better able to advise you.

  7. Trish higdon Says:

    I am 38 yrs. old. Lots of health problems. My mom had chicken pox when I was born. The doctors said I had shingles as a new born. This was in 1976. Not a lot of medicine those days. I know it’s very rare. I was curious if my medical problems has any thing to do with being born with shingles? Does any one know if that’s true? If so, what are some of the medical problems you can have being born with shingles? I hope some one can help me! Thank you! Trish

  8. Sara Says:

    Hi Trish. I am sorry that you are having so many health problems. You will need to talk to your doctor to find out if your current health problems may be related to your shingles diagnosis as a newborn. I am sorry that we can’t be of more assistance.

  9. Jade K. Says:

    Hello all,

    I am 11 weeks pregnant and just spent a weekend with my husband with what we thought was a common rash, turned out to be shingles. The thing is I have never had chicken pox. How worried should I be?

  10. Sara Says:

    Hi Jade. Talk to your health care provider. He or she will be better able to address your concerns.

  11. Apple Says:

    Hi! I am 35 weeks pregnant today and I have Shingles. It all started with a very excruciating pain and everybody thought that it’s only a cause of my pregnancy. It is so painful so I asked my husband to go to our OB for check up. Then I showed my rashes and explained how painful it is. So she said that I have Shingles! :'( She just asked me to put Calamine lotion and drink mefenemic acid. Now, I’m still worried about my baby. Hoping and praying that he will be okay. Now, my blisters has bigher bumps and it is so painful. Sigh… by the way, the doctor that checked on me last tuesday (Mar 3, 2015) is not my OB, since my doctor is out of the country for convention. Just wanted your opinion, should I go back to my OB once he came back to his convention? should I worry because there is no anti viral med that was given to me? Will my baby be harmed? Thanks so much – Apple

  12. Sara Says:

    Hello Apple. I am sorry that you are in such pain. If you have any questions or concerns about whether you should take anti-viral medications, make sure you talk to your OB. He will be better able to advise you. Feel better soon!

  13. Kassandra Says:

    Hi, I am 23 weeks pregnant and only 25 years old. I started getting a rash, my husband, parents,friends and I all assumed it was just a heat rash. It hurts a little ans itches a lot. On my neck shoulder ans chest only little blotches of it. So I went to the walk in and was informed it was the shingles?! I am so worried that I got it BC of a illness or something. I did in fact have chicken pox as a kid. Should I be worried? What should I do? I am taking antiviral meds as of now. Using calamine lotion. Today it looksa little better. My rash never blistered up or anything?

  14. Judy Says:

    Can toddlers get shingles? children that are exposed to a family
    member with shingles, carry the virus without getting it, and
    then able to pass it on to another person or a pregnant parent.
    My husband has skin lupus can getting shingles cause his skin
    lupus to flare up and become more serious.

  15. Sara Says:

    Hi Judy. Although shingles is more common in adults, children can get it as well. You can read our post Shingles, kids and pregnant women – know the facts ( for more information. Your husband will need to check with his health care provider regarding his condition and the risk of shingles.

  16. Marie Says:

    I developed a shingles rash yesterday, confirmed at an Urgent Care Center today. My 25 wk pregnant daughter has been staying with me for 2 days. The MD at the center told me that there is an air-borne component to the virus and that my daughter is safe b’cause she had chicken pox as a child but that contamination from me could pass to the fetus.
    This contradicts everything I’ve read online. I have not developed the blisters yet. I sent my daughter home and she will call her OB tomorrow.
    Sara, any opinion?

  17. Mary Richard Says:

    I have the shingles. We just found out my daughter in law is pregnant. And she has been to my home around me every day.she never had chicken pox. But she had all her vaccination for chicken pox. Someone told us that her being around me could harm the baby. Is that true. Very concerned mother in law.

  18. Sara Says:

    Hi Marie. According to the CDC: “The [shingles] virus is spread through direct contact with fluid from the rash blisters caused by shingles.

    A person with active shingles can spread the virus when the rash is in the blister-phase. A person is not infectious before the blisters appear. Once the rash has developed crusts, the person is no longer contagious.”

    However, it is really best that your daughter talk to her OB. He will be better able to advise her.

  19. Sara Says:

    Hi Mary. The CDC states that “the virus that causes shingles can be spread from a person with active shingles to another person who has never had chickenpox. In such cases, the person exposed to the virus might develop chickenpox, but they would not develop shingles.”

    Since your daughter-in-law was vaccinated, she should be immune to chickenpox. But she should talk to her health care provider and ask about any questions or concerns she may have.

  20. Hena Says:

    hi..I’m 21 years old..I just found out that I am pregnant with my first. but I am concerned because I had chicken pox two weeks before. and nw its all dried up and almost gone. cud ds be affecting my baby?? I had two early miscarriages before.

  21. Lady J Says:

    I work as a massage therapist and recently found out that one of my co workers have shingles I’m 27 wks pregnant I have had chicken pox when I was 4 but I’m scared if being around her leave risk not only for me but for my unborn child please help with the right course of action I lost a child before in first trimester and I don’t want anything to happen to the child I’m carrying now

  22. lady b Says:

    My mom is 1 week into shingles and does not have any new blisters, my daughter is 11 weeks pregnant she did NOT have chicken pox and dont know the results of her titer yet, can they be in contact now?

  23. Mary tvaroch Says:

    My daughter who is 7 months pregnant is afraid to be around me because I just came down with shingles. She feels that she had chicken pox very young(5-6) she could catch them again. Is there a chance this could happen I thought you can only get them once. She is even afraid to eat any food I cook.

  24. Grace Says:

    Hi I am 4 months pregnant now and I have shingles for over two months. Its still itchy sometimes and showed even after I took a shower . I am worried if this will affect the baby.

    Please advise.

  25. Mommy H Says:

    I had chickenox vaccine on Jan 15 and then had my last period on Feb 15. Afterwhich I got pregnant. CDC says that I should not get pregnant within 4 weeks after vaccination. I know it’s more than 28 days when I got pregnant but I can’t still help but worry about my baby. Is my understanding correct that as long as I don’t develop rashes/chickenpox within 3 months, then I’ll be sure that my baby will not be infected by those live weakened virus?

  26. Sara Says:

    We suggest you talk to your health care provider about your concerns. Both the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend a woman wait one month after receiving the varicella vaccine before becoming pregnant. And there are reports of normal babies born to women who conceived one month or less after getting the vaccine. You can also contact MotherToBaby ( at 866-626-6847 for additional information.

  27. Sandra Kisling Says:

    Hi, I have a 29 year old daughter that is just 2 weeks pregnant with twins. She had a mild attack a few days ago of the Shingles which almost always attacks her left eye. Now 10 years ago she almost lost her left eye because of it. Is there any medication for this will she is pregant. She went to the emergency room and this Doctor told her she has to wait a full month to see her GYN team, what if she does not have a month and she loses her eye then what? He only gave her eye drops will that does not help. What are some of the medications that someone with shingles can take?

  28. Sara Says:

    Hi Sandra. Your daughter should call her health care provider. Antiviral medications may be appropriate but her provider would need to evaluate her. Antivirals can lessen the severity and reduce the discomforts of shingles.

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