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What is Chicken Pox?
Chicken pox is a viral infection caused by varicella virus. It is a highly infectious disease that causes small pustules all over the body of the affected person.
Most people have suffered from chicken pox once in their childhood and hence their body develops antibodies against the infection-causing virus. If this is the case with you too, there is no risk in going near a person with chicken pox. However, if you have not had this infection since your birth, you need to take some precautionary measures.
Chicken pox during pregnancy
If you are pregnant and get infected by the chicken pox virus, the risk to you and your developing baby is determined by the stage of your pregnancy.
What are the risks?
Chicken pox is a highly contagious disease. It causes itchy rashes and its severity gets manifold during pregnancy. The risks associated with the infection depend on the time of pregnancy. There is an increased risk of severe complications, such as pneumonia. In pregnant women, it also acts as a contributing factor for higher rate of premature birth.
The risk to the baby is very small if the mother develops chicken pox during the early stages of pregnancy, prior to the 8th week. Between the 10th and 20th week, the baby faces a risk of developing a rare birth defect, called congenital varicella syndrome. The baby with this defect can have mental retardation, vision problems, scars on skin, and multiple defects in muscles and bones.
Between the 20th and 36th week, the risk reduces. The baby may or may not have any problems in such cases.
If the mother develops this infection towards the end of pregnancy, the risk is considerably higher. When the mother is infected between the 36th and the 40th week, the baby could be born with this deadly infection. Immunoglobulin is used for treatment of the baby immediately. If needed, antiviral drugs are also administered.
If you are trying to conceive and you are not sure if you are immune to chicken pox, consider getting yourself vaccinated. The vaccine is absolutely safe for women of all ages. However, it is recommended that you wait for about a month after getting vaccinated before you start trying to have a baby. Also, do not get yourself vaccinated against chicken pox during your pregnancy.
What to do if you are in proximity of an infected person and not immune?
If any member of your family is infected with chicken pox, you are likely to be infected too. If you are not immune to the virus, the doctor may recommend you to take a shot of varicella-zoster immune globulin (VZIG). This is believed to provide you with protection for about 3 weeks if given within a period of 10 days of catching the infection. After this period, you have to take another injection to keep yourself immunized. Also, this injection does not provide protection to your baby.
If you are worried about the health of your baby, you may get an ultrasound test done between 18th and 20th week to see of the baby’s limbs are fully functional, heartbeat is normal, etc.
An injection of immune globulin is found to be effective in treating chicken pox. It contains antibodies that reduce the severity of the disease if given within 96 hours after exposure to the infection. If you see the symptoms of chicken pox, contact your doctor immediately. The drug acyclovir (Zovirax) is considered safe during pregnancy and may be used for treatment of chicken pox.
You will be quarantined for the period in which the rashes cover your body and shed after some time. Many people recommend using neem leaves for bathing during this time, because of its medicinal properties.