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.

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58 Responses to “Shingles exposure during pregnancy”

  1. Dorian Says:

    Thank you for all this information, that is something we usually don’t know. Thank god I’ve had chickenpox in the past and won’t have to deal with that during pregnancy. And actually now I know why I’ve also had shingles in the past.

  2. Sara Says:

    Thanks so much for you comment. Glad that you found it helpful!

  3. Dulce Says:

    Oh gosh now I’m scared because I haven’t had chickenpox and now in 24 weeks pregnant, hopefully I make it to the end healthy and safe. Thank you for the post

  4. Sofia Says:

    My mother (51) developed chickenpox when my father (52) was recovering from the singles. She never had the chickenpox before, nor was vaccinated against it. So it does happen, beware!

  5. Vikki Says:

    I was with my pregnant daughter most of last weekend. I was having a headache on the left side of my head with a burning feeling at my hairline like I burned myself with a curling iron. This continued throughout the weekend, although Tylenol did help. Then come mid-morning on Monday and I started getting little blisters on my forehead and around my eye. I actually thought I had been bitten by a spider because I had a Shingles shot 3 years ago when I was 60 and didn’t realize I could get a milder form of the Shingles. I finally made a trip to a Walk-In Clinic and lo and behold I had a mild to moderate form of the shingles. Because my daughter wasn’t around me when the blisters appeared, the doctor didn’t think she need worry, although she said my daughter’s doctor should be aware of the situation. Thank heavens I had the shot before I actually got the Shingles. My pain is tolerable, although at times it burns consistent with a curling iron burn, but the medication is going a good job. I highly recommend anyone over 60 to take the time to get the Shingles shot. I can only imagine what would have happened had I not had the shot.

  6. Mary Ann Says:

    Hi! Im a bit worried because im 6 weeks pregnant and im expose to shingles because my father in law got shingles and we at the same house. I have chicken pox before is itpossible that may baby can catch the virus alone? Even if I dont get shingles

  7. Sara Says:

    Thank you all for your comments.

    Mary Ann,
    If you have already had chickenpox, you should be OK. Your antibodies will prevent the virus from multiplying in your body and protect your baby. Also remember that shingles is not spread through the air. 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 any questions though, make sure you talk to your health care provider.

  8. Cindy Says:

    What if you are trying to get pregnant and have just been diagnosed with shingles? I just started taking Valtrex and am in the process of starting an IVF cycle (frozen ET) but need to take Provera first to bring on a cycle which will take ten days to induce a period. While I don’t intend to take Provera while on Valtrex, is it ok to start Provera after I’m done or should I wait even longer?

  9. Maggie Says:

    I had chicken pox as a child when I got pregnant with my first I developed shingles at 16 weeks now I got it with my second at 29 weeks both times on my left inner tight…. So painful

  10. Sara Says:

    Hi Cindy. The best thing to do is for you to talk to your health care provider. S/he can better help you determine the best time to start Provera after you finish taking Valtrex. Sorry that we can’t be of greater assistance.

  11. Sara Says:

    Hi Maggie. So sorry to hear that you have shingles. Hopefully you will be feeling better soon!

  12. Christine Says:

    Hi I have an elderly ladie who lives with me I also take care of 13 month granddaughter who hasn’t had the pox and her mother is due any day now should I be concerned?

  13. Sara Says:

    Hi Christine. If someone in your household has shingles and your granddaughter or her mother has not had chicken pox or been vaccinated, then there is a chance that one of them may get chicken pox. Remember that shingles is less contagious than chickenpox and the risk of a person with shingles spreading the virus is low if the rash is covered. However, it is important to talk to their health care providers.

  14. Lori Says:

    Hello All! I am 6 weeks pregnant and just found out today that I have shingles. While I am terrified (I’ve had 3 m/c’s) my doctor says this should not cause a problem, so I guess that’s some reassurance. We have our first appt this week, so I am trying to repeat my doc’s words to stay positive. She said Chickenpox would be bad, but with Shingles it should be ok.

  15. Camille Says:

    Im 12 weeks pregnant, my 2nd and I was just diagnosed with shingles. My mom told me I’ve had chicken pox when i was little but i cant remember. It all started with a small rash at the right side of my back then after two days became blisters. I thought it was just allergic reaction when i scratched my back one night. My dr prescribed Acyclovir, an antiviral drug. Hey, it’s not cheap! He assured me it’s safe for pregnant women. Also, i was ordered to rest from work until i heal so as not not to expose others. Im on house arrest now. Haha. I am now starting to feel the pain coz the blisters spread to my breast. It’s like mild piercing on my body I cant help but cringe when it happens..I cant wait to feel better. I just wish and pray no harm will happen to my baby because of this. We can do this, moms! Ü

  16. Chris Says:

    I am 36 weeks pregnant and was just diagnosed with shingles today: i had chicken pox at age 4. Please educate people responsibly on sites like this. Although it is quite rare for shingles to present in pregnancy, it can happen. I was seen by infectious diseases physicians today and was prescribed 1000mg acyclovir 3x/day for 8 days because the infection was identified 4 days after it presented (this is the timeframe this treatment will work). Do your own research, but this medicine has a lot of evidence that its safe in pregnancy. Good luck.

  17. Sara Says:

    Hi Cris. Thank you so much for your comments. You are absolutely correct–if you have had chickenpox, it is possible to develop shingles during pregnancy. And antiviral medications, such as Acyclovir, are available and can lessen the severity and reduce the discomforts. For more information about antiviral meds, you can click on the link in the post. Hope you are feeling better soon!

  18. Debby Says:

    Hi. I’m 2 wks pregnant and just developed shingles. I’ve never had chicken pox and actually was neg when I had my titers drawn a few yrs ago and had had to hv the vaccine. I keep hearing and reading that it’s impossible to get shingles without first getting chicken pox so how is this possible??

  19. Sara Says:

    Hi Debby. According to the CDC, “Chickenpox vaccines contain weakened live varicella zoster virus (VZV), which may cause latent (dormant) infection. The vaccine-strain VZV can reactivate later in life and cause shingles.” So if you had the vaccine, you can get shingles. Hope you are feeling OK. Make sure you talk to your doc about any questions or concerns you may have.

  20. Nurse Says:

    Shingles is in fact spread through the air. In the hospital we are required by the CDC and our infection control team to place the pt in either a negative pressure room or place a hepa filter in the room and anyone who enters is required to wear an N95 respirator…. Just FYI.

  21. Sara Says:

    According to the CDC, “The virus is spread through direct contact with fluid from the rash blisters, not through sneezing, coughing or casual contact.” It sounds like the hospital is taking precautions in the event that either the patient or a health care worker is immunocompromised, which makes very good sense. Thanks for your comment.

  22. Chanel Says:

    Hi I saw that a few other ladies developed Shingles while pregnant I did too during my 1st trimester and now that I am in my 3rd trimester I am worried about what some of the sites are saying about problems that the fetus could have. Does anyone know about reports on woman with shingles during pregancy having problems with the fetus.

  23. Sara Says:

    Hi Chanel. In response to the question “I’m 8 weeks pregnant and just developed shingles. Can shingles harm my baby?”, MotherToBaby, an organization dedicated to providing accurate information about exposures during pregnancy says: “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.” You can call MotherToBaby at 1-866-626-6847 for more information. We hope that this is helpful.

  24. marlene Says:

    Yes, shingles can be spread through the air. I just spoke to the Dr. and she said that even being in the house with someone with shingles, is enough to catch the virus, that is, if you HAVE NEVER HAD CHICKEN POX.
    If you HAVE had chicken pox, you do not have to worry about catching shingles from the patient, however, one is still able to get shingles, in the future. Meaning, the virus can reawaken on it’s own, in your body, since the chicken pox virus remains dormant, but you will NOT have gotten shingles from that patient.

  25. Sandy Says:

    Hi,

    I have taken shingles vaccine and after 3 weeks I found that I’m 5 weeks pregnant. As per CDC, shingles vaccine should not be taken during pregnancy or need to wait for atleast 4 weeks to get pregnant after taking the vaccination. Since my pregnancy was unplanned, am I at any kind of fetal risk? Please provide your comments.
    Note: I had chickenpox 9 months back and that is the reason why I opted to go for shingles vaccine.

  26. Lindsay Says:

    According to the National Institutes of Health, “Unlike chickenpox, with shingles, the virus is NOT transmitted by someone breathing or coughing on you. You have to come in contact with the blister fluid itself. Once the blisters scab over, the contagious period is ended.” http://nihseniorhealth.gov/shingles/aboutshingles/01.html

    And the CDC states, “The virus is spread through direct contact with fluid from the rash blisters, not through sneezing, coughing or casual contact.” http://www.cdc.gov/shingles/about/transmission.html

  27. Lindsay Says:

    Sandy, sorry to hear about your surprise vaccination and pregnancy overlap. Please let your health care provider know about this and get her/his advice about your personal situation.

    According to OTIS (Organization of Teratology Indormation Speciaists), “The company who makes the vaccine has
    compiled a registry of pregnant women who received the
    vaccine. As of March 2009 they had pregnancy outcomes
    on 789 women who received the vaccine. There was no
    increase in birth defects over the general population risk.” http://www.mothertobaby.org/files/chickenpox.pdf

  28. Estela Says:

    I developed shingles while 32 was pregnant. Painful… My OBGYN was surprised and told me I was his first case. I am 32 yrs old.
    Single douse at the ER made it go away. My daughter is now 5 yrs old with no signs of nothing thank God… Don’t stress! You are pregnant!

  29. Georgie Says:

    I have shingles an not knowing I did. I’ve been working with a girl that is about 10 weeks pregnant an now I’m worried.

  30. Ashley Ann Says:

    I had shingles while I was pregnant with my first child. It is apparently not as rare as this site is saying :)

  31. rose Says:

    I am pregnant and about to give birth in 5 wks, my mom was diagnose with shingle she is taking antivirals; she has the pain and itching but not blisters at all. she was diagnose 5 days ago. can I or my baby be around her? I am getting conflicting information from my doctors nurse and now your website. help!!

  32. Sara Says:

    Hi Rose. It depends on each person’s medical history with chickenpox. Please discuss this with your physician who knows your history and can advise you.

  33. school nurse says Says:

    I have been reading some of the comments and I have been people that have shingles and always during my pregnancies as I am now. Mom’s who are expecting should limit their exposure to anybody that has shingles. I had a DON that told me, no matter what not to work with residents with shingles. It is always better to be safe now than sorry later. Stay safe all you pregnant moms.

  34. To sarah Says:

    Assuming your not a doctor or nurse so you should not be advising these people. Sharing your experience is one thing but you are telling people they can not get shingles when pregnant. Well I have shingles and I am pregnant so you are in fact wrong my dear. I am also a nurse. And no it does not harm your baby unless it gets to a really advanced stage and starts affecting your organs and stuff. It is not airborne but doctors and hospitals do take precaution so we do not spread it. Because we do not want to pass it to other patients with illnesses because their bodies can not fight it off. Hope this has been helpful. Mine is very small and on my face and I’m only 24 (almost 25) so I was surprised you can get shingles this young!

  35. To sarah Says:

    Most of your questions should be asked to an actual doctor. Websites like these are good for sharing experiences not for medical advice because everyone’s body’s are different … My question is. For those of you who have had shingles while pregnant how far along were you when you found out?

  36. Sara Says:

    Thanks so much for your comments. And sorry to hear that you are having to deal with shingles. The March of Dimes provides information, but we do not provide medical advice. It is always best to speak to your health care provider regarding your questions and concerns. As we do mention in the above post, it is possible to develop shingles during pregnancy. If you notice any signs or symptoms, you should let your provider know. And again, always follow your doctor’s advice.

  37. Jacci Says:

    i am 51 , i have had shingles for 7 days on antiviral ‘s . I would like to b
    babysit my daughters children/My grandchildren. My daughter is 30 weeks regnant. Can i spread the virus from her children to her?

  38. Sara Says:

    Hi Jacci. Hope you are feeling better. It really depends on each person’s medical history with chickenpox. Please discuss this with your physician and your daughter can talk to her physician as well as her children’s pediatrician. They will be better able to advise all of you.

  39. Ailleen Says:

    My eldest son suffered chicken pox last march 7..he did not stay in our house because im 28 weeks pregnant… But now he want to go home is it contagious for me if i allow him to go back here in our house?im affraid because i didnt have chicken pox since i was young…thank you

  40. Norxis Says:

    Hi, I am 17 weeks and I was diagnose today with Shingles due to some blisters in my nose . I had it last year around the same month which I believe it’s really weird, I hope I don’t get it every year . First I will like to thank this website for the information you share including your experiences , since my doctor today on the ER wasn’t as informative as I would of prefer. Secondly , I have pain in my jaw and I was wondering if there is any relation with the symptoms of shingle?

  41. Sara Says:

    Hi Ailleen. You should talk to your health care provider. He or she will be better able to advise you.

  42. Sara Says:

    Hi Norxis. We are sorry but we cannot tell you if the pain in your jaw is related to your shingles diagnosis. The best thing to do is to talk to your doctor.

  43. Lauren Says:

    Hi there,

    I’m 24 weeks pregnant and have been diagnosed with shingles. Six days ago I developed diarrhea and a headache then presented to emergency two days later dehydrated. They had no idea what it was and put it down to gastro. The next day I represented to emergency as I had extreme stomach cramping and the continuation of diarrhea. The cramping was over my whole stomach and was roughly a 7-8/10 in pain. Felt like labour pains. They still didn’t know what it was and put it down to gastro again and the pains was apparently my intestine rebelling to the runs. I then developed a rash two days later, so day 5, on my right side of my belly just under my right breast that has blisters on it. I went to my gp today and turns out it’s shingles! Also have back pain and am lethargic.

    Thanks

  44. Nicole Says:

    I was diagnosed with shingles last week (37week pregnant). I’m terribly worried that it would harm my baby. Since the virus in shingles is the same as it is in chicken pox, is it likely that my baby will be born with chicken pox? In case the blisters are still active when I go into labor, will it put my baby at risk? Of course, I’ll make sure the blisters are covered in order to avoid the fluid oozing. Kindly advise. Thank you.

  45. Sara Says:

    Hello Nicole. It is really best for you to talk to your prenatal care provider. He or she will be better able to advise you. Also, ask your provider about whether antiviral medications may be helpful to you.

  46. Colleen Says:

    Hi I am 21 weeks pregnant and learned today that a co worker, who was hugging me yesterday has shingles. I have never had chicken pox so im sort of freaking out. How worried should I be?

  47. Sara Says:

    Hi Collen. Contact your health care provider and he or she can better advise you.

  48. Jennifer Says:

    Thank you for this article. I was just exposed to Shingles and I’m 8 weeks pregnant, so I was worried. This really put my mind at ease!

  49. Olga Says:

    Hi, I have very minor case of shingles and I am 14 weeks pregnant.
    My dermatologist is saying it is so mild case that there is no potential risks, but obgyn is insisting for me to take medications (zoviraz pills, which I found out after doing research on it can penetrate placenta)
    And now I dont know what to do… follow dermatologist advice and let it go away by itself, or treat as obgyn wants. I personally dont want any medications, and my shingles dont bother me at all, the only concern is danger to the baby…

  50. Sara Says:

    Hi Olga. You may want to contact MotherToBaby at 1-866-626-6847 for more information. They are dedicated to providing evidence-based information to mothers, health care professionals, and the general public about medications and other exposures during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. You can also read their fact sheet on Zovirax (http://www.mothertobaby.org/files/acyclovir.pdf).

  51. 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.

  52. sibongile Says:

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

  53. 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.

  54. 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!

  55. 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.

  56. 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.” (http://www.mothertobaby.org/files/chickenpox.pdf) However, it is important to discuss your concerns with your health care provider. He or she will be better able to advise you.

  57. 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

  58. 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.

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