Week 17 - Chicken Pox and Fifth Disease During Pregnancy

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Hello. I’m Dr. Mauldin. You’re now 17 weeks pregnant.

There are many illnesses that we think of as “childhood problems”, but which can also affect us as adults. This is particularly true if you already have young children who are in daycare or preschool or if your occupation puts you in contact with children – such as childcare workers and health care providers.

The diseases we’re talking about are caused by viruses. Their symptoms are often very subtle – many patients just think they have a cold or they just don’t feel right for a day or 2. For instance, chickenpox is one of the most common childhood illnesses. Most adults are immune to chickenpox because they remember having the itching skin rash and fever as a child or they had the vaccine against it.  In obstetrics, we are concerned about those women who are not immune because chickenpox is more severe when you have the disease as an adult and can possibly be even worse if you are pregnant because you are more likely to develop pneumonia from it.

So, if you know someone who has been exposed to chickenpox or who has actually does have chickenpox, try to stay away from him or her. Early in pregnancy, the chance of harm to your baby is really pretty low. If you get chickenpox within several weeks of giving birth, the disease may be passed on to your baby, but antibodies will be passed onto the baby as well and the baby should do well.

Most importantly, tell your doctor right away if you think you have been exposed to chickenpox while you are pregnant. If you are at risk for developing chickenpox, your doctor may give you a drug called varicella-zoster immune globulin (or VZIG). This medication is used to prevent patients from getting very sick if they do get the infection. But to work, it has to be given within 3 days of when you are first exposed.

Fifth disease (or parvo virus) is another common mild illness that spreads easily. The main symptom is a bright red rash that starts on the cheeks and then spreads across the body.  Again, the majority of people are immune to the disease because they’ve been exposed to it in the past.

If you have fifth disease while pregnant, you probably will have only mild illness and your baby will most likely not have any problems.  If it happens to be more severe disease, there is a small chance the baby could become anemic, which can lead to miscarriage and stillbirth. If you suspect that you’ve been exposed to fifth’s disease, let your doctor know. You can be monitored with blood work and ultrasounds and the baby’s anemia can often be treated.

So finally, what steps should you take to avoid these viruses? Well, there are 2 things:

Avoid close contact with people who have, or may have, one of the childhood illnesses. And wash your hands frequently and thoroughly if you must be in a situation where exposure is possible.

I hope you are doing well and I’ll talk to you next week.  

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