Chickenpox, Pediatric Herpes Zoster, and Pregnancy
If a pregnant woman gets chickenpox
21 to 5 days before giving birth, her newborn can have chickenpox at birth or develop it within a few days. But the time lapse between the start of the mother's illness and the birth of the baby generally allows the mother's immune system to react and produce antibodies to fight the virus. These antibodies can be transmitted to the unborn child and thus help fight the infection. Still, a small percentage of the babies exposed to chickenpox in the 21 to 5 days before birth develop pediatric herpes zoster
in the first 5 years of life. This is because the newborn's immune system is not yet fully functional and capable of keeping the virus latent.
What if the mother contracts chickenpox at the time of birth? In that case, the mother's immune system has not had a chance to mobilize its forces. And although some of the mother's antibodies will be transmitted to the newborn via the placenta, the newborn will have little ability to fight off the attack because its immune system is immature. If these babies develop chickenpox as a result, it can be fatal. They are given zoster immune globulin -- a preparation made from the antibody-rich blood of adults who have recently recovered from chickenpox or herpes zoster -- to lessen the severity of their chickenpox.