Shingles is an infection that causes a painful rash on one side of the face or body. Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. If you’ve had chickenpox before, the virus stays inactive in your body. In many people, the virus never becomes active again. But in others, it can become active and cause shingles.
Anyone who has had chickenpox in the past may develop shingles, including pregnant people. About 1 in 3 people in the U.S. develops shingles at some point in their life. But most cases of shingles are in people over age 50. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends that people age 50 and over get a shingles vaccine. A vaccine helps protect you from getting certain diseases.
If you get shingles during pregnancy, talk to your provider about the risk for your baby. Shingles during pregnancy rarely causes complications for the baby. If you get shingles right before giving birth or in the days after, protect your newborn from having contact with the shingles rash. Cover the shingles rash and wash your hands often.
What are the symptoms of shingles?
The first signs of shingles may be pain, itching or tingling in the area where the rash develops. The rash becomes blisters that scab over in 7 to 10 days. The blisters heal in about 2 to 4 weeks. Other symptoms may include fever, headache, chills or stomachache. About 1 in 10 people with shingles have nerve pain that can last for weeks, months or even years after the rash goes away. In some cases, shingles can cause other serious problems, such as eye problems.
How is shingles diagnosed and treated during pregnancy?
If you’re pregnant and you notice you have a rash, talk to your health care provider right away. Your provider can do a physical exam and tell you if the rash is shingles. Your provider can also confirm the diagnosis through a lab test.
Shingles is treated with antiviral medicines. Your provider can prescribe a medicine that’s safe to take during pregnancy. These medicines are most effective if they are taken as soon as possible after the rash appears. Your provider may also recommend certain over-the-counter medicines to help with pain or itching.
Is shingles contagious?
People with shingles cannot spread shingles to other people, but they can spread chickenpox to other people. This can happen if you touch the rash of someone with shingles and you are not immune to chickenpox. Immune means you are protected against getting an infection. You can become immune to chickenpox by having the infection in the past or by getting the varicella vaccine.
Most pregnant people are immune to chickenpox. But if you’re not immune and you get chickenpox during pregnancy, it can cause problems for you and your baby.
What problems can chickenpox cause for you and your baby?
Having chickenpox during pregnancy can increase your risk of getting pneumonia and can even be life-threatening. Pneumonia is a lung infection that can be very serious.
Chickenpox during pregnancy can also cause problems for your baby. For example, your baby may be at increased risk for a rare group of serious birth defects called congenital varicella syndrome if you get chickenpox during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. And if you get chickenpox immediately before or right after birth, your baby may have an increased risk for a serious infection called neonatal varicella.
How can you protect yourself from chickenpox?
If you’re not immune to chickenpox, getting the varicella vaccine before you get pregnant is the best way to protect you and your baby from chickenpox. But it’s not safe to get this vaccine during pregnancy. If you’re not sure if you’re immune to chickenpox, talk to your health care provider. Your provider can do a blood test to find out if you’re immune.
If you’re pregnant, stay away from anyone who has shingles or chickenpox. Tell your provider right away if you come into contact with someone who has shingles. Your provider can decide if you need treatment to help prevent you from getting chickenpox. And tell your provider if you come into contact with someone who has chickenpox. Your provider can treat you with medicine that has chickenpox antibodies. Antibodies help the body fight infections. It’s important to get treatment within 10 days after you’ve come into contact with chickenpox to help prevent the infection or make it less serious.