Shingles and Pregnancy – Are You at Risk?

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Shingles during pregnancy

Pregnancy brings a lot of changes in a woman’s life. You experience morning sickness, mood swings, tiredness, frequent urination, contractions and what not. All pregnant women experience this, but sometimes, women may be vulnerable to certain diseases and ailments, like shingles during pregnancy. Does this pose a risk during pregnancy? Find out!

What is Shingles

Shingles is a skin disease. It is characterised by the occurrence of painful rashes, usually around either side of one’s upper body.

What Causes Shingles

Shingles are caused by Varicella zoster which is the same virus that causes chickenpox. People who have been affected by chicken pox in the past have a likelihood of developing shingles, as the virus could lie dormant in their body for years. Shingles outbreaks could also be catalysed by pre-existing conditions such as HIV, treatments such as chemotherapy and even corticosteroid medications, which are, ironically, administered to fight inflammation! All of these factors contribute toward lowering immunity and hence, create a viable environment in your body, for the virus to thrive!

Symptoms of Shingles

If anyone in your family has had chicken pox in the past or has a weak immune system; it is wise to keep a watch on these symptoms.

1. Early Stage

  • Fever, headache, and weakness are common before any distinct signs of shingles show up.
  • Certain areas of the body, usually on one side of the torso or face, could feel burning pain or numbness with a tingling sensation.
  • The rashes associated with shingles appear days later.

2. Second Stage

  • The appearance of reddened, blotchy, inflamed patches on the skin around the area experiencing pain. Shingles virus lays dormant within nerve cells. These itchy patches occur along nerve pathways.
  • As your body tries to fight the virus, other inevitable symptoms associated with immunological attacks appear. These include fever, diarrhoea, nausea, and difficulty in urinating.

3. Third Stage

  • Rapid appearance of rashes with pus-filled blisters on the inflamed patches of skin.
  • These blisters slowly dry out and scab over. This process takes ten to fourteen days.
  • Even after the lesions have dried out, dull pain could continue for up to four months and in some people, even years!

Shingles during pregnancyA pregnant woman's body itching

Are Shingles Contagious?

Shingles itself is not contagious, but the virus that causes shingles is contagious. Shingles cause oozing blisters, and the virus Varicella zoster can spread if one touches the oozing pus from the blisters of an infected person. A person exposed to this virus will develop chickenpox first, and not shingles. However, anyone who has had chickenpox in the past will not get infected by exposure to an infected person, as they already have this dormant virus in their body.

How are Shingles Diagnosed

Shingles can be diagnosed by the distinct appearance of rashes. However, if the rashes are not there, accurate diagnosis is impossible without the use of highly advanced testing to detect the varicella-zoster virus.

Does Shingles Cause Harm to the Mother and Baby

Can shingles affect pregnancy? – All expectant mothers have this question in their mind. It is obvious for a woman to panic, but there is no need to worry. The effect of shingles on pregnancy is minimal. Since shingles only affect people who have had chicken pox before, they already possess immunity against the virus. This immunity protects the baby during pregnancy.

Treatment for Shingles

There is no cure for shingles. The disease usually begins and ends within a period of one month. During this time, painkillers and anti-viral medication could be used to relieve the symptoms up to a certain point. However, one should talk to a healthcare professional before taking any medicines for shingles in pregnancy, as it could affect the foetus.

Self Care Tips

Shingles usually subside in a month. But a little effort from your side can provide relief from the pain and itching caused due to shingles. Here are some self-care tips that you should try if you have shingles during pregnancy:

  • Use halotherapy (cold compresses) over rashes to soothe burning sensation and itching. Cold baths also help in alleviating pain.
  • Calamine solution or oatmeal baths soothe itching by binding to the skin. They also accelerate the drying up of blisters.
  • Use loose gauze bandages to cover the affected areas. This allows the rashes to dry up. Tight bandaging causes humidity to develop between the skin and bandage, aggravating the rash.
  • Change bandages every day, or after every bath.
  • Wear loose clothing.

How Can You Prevent Shingles When Pregnant

Vaccination can help prevent shingles in pregnancy. However, the vaccine needs to be administered at least 3 months before you conceive to prevent possible ill effects of the vaccination itself on the pregnancy. If you didn’t have chickenpox, avoid exposure to other people who have either shingles or chickenpox as it could cause you to develop chickenpox. Chickenpox is highly dangerous during pregnancy. It has been linked to birth defects or infection in the foetus. Therefore, you should take preventive measures in advance.

Also Read: Eczema during Pregnancy

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