Chickenpox - Complications 

Complications of chickenpox 

Complications of chickenpox are rare in healthy children. The most common complication is where the blisters become infected with bacteria.

A sign that the blisters have become infected is when the surrounding skin becomes red and sore.

If you think that your child's blisters have become infected, contact your GP as the child may need a course of antibiotics.

The people who are most at risk of developing chickenpox complications are:

  • adults
  • pregnant women
  • babies under four weeks old
  • people with a weakened immune system 

Adults

Chickenpox can be more serious in adults than in children. Adults with the virus are more likely to be admitted into hospital. Approximately 5-14% of adults with chickenpox develop lung problems, such as pneumonia. If you smoke, your risk of developing lung problems is much greater.

Although it is more serious in adults, most people will still make a full recovery from the chickenpox virus.

Pregnant women

If you're pregnant, chickenpox can occasionally cause complications.

For example, your risk of developing pneumonia is slightly higher if you're pregnant, especially if you smoke. The further you are into your pregnancy, the more serious the risk of pneumonia tends to be.

If you get chickenpox while you're pregnant, there is also a small but significant risk to your unborn baby.  

If you are infected with chickenpox during the first 28 weeks of your pregnancy, there is a risk that your unborn baby could develop a condition known as foetal varicella syndrome (FVS).

This syndrome is rare. The risk of it occurring in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy is less than 1%. Between 13 and 20 weeks, the risk is 2%.

There have only been a few reports of FVS due to an infection from weeks 20 to 28 of pregnancy and the risk is thought to be much less than 1%.

Foetal varicella syndrome can cause serious complications, including:

  • scarring 
  • eye defects, such as cataracts
  • shortened limbs
  • brain damage

There are also other risks from catching chickenpox after week 20 of pregnancy.

It is possible that your baby may be born prematurely (before week 37 of the pregnancy).

And if you are infected with chickenpox seven days before or seven days after giving birth, your newborn baby may develop a more serious type of chickenpox. In a few severe cases, this type of chickenpox can be fatal.

See your GP urgently if you're pregnant or have given birth in the last seven days and you think you may have chickenpox, or if you've been exposed to someone who has chickenpox.

People with a weakened immune system

Your immune system is your body's way of defending itself against disease, bacteria and viruses.

If your immune system is weak or does not work properly, you are more susceptible to developing infections such as chickenpox. This is because your body produces fewer antibodies to fight off the infection.

You may have a weakened immune system if you take immunosuppressive medication. This is medicine that works by damping down your immune system.

Immunosuppressive medication such as steroid tablets may be used if, for example, you have an inflammatory condition such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or certain blood conditions.

If you have a weakened immune system, you're also more at risk of developing complications from chickenpox. These complications include:

See your GP urgently if you have a weakened immune system and you've been exposed to the chickenpox virus.

For more information, read about how to stop the spread of chickenpox.

Page last reviewed: 19/04/2012

Next review due: 19/04/2014

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Comments

The 3 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Spify23 said on 15 July 2014

At 23 I finally got chicken pox. I had 2 days of flu-like symptoms then was fine but day 4 I started breaking out into little blisters to the point where my face was completely covered in a matter of 2 hours. Doc said it was chicken pox and I'll be fine. Well not quite. Day 5 I was ok but really hot, high temps, lethargic, and sleeping a lot. Day 6 was the worst I had an extremely high fever, I couldn't swallow anything so drinking fluids was very hard, I had no appetite and kept loosing consciousness, I was extremely nauseas and vomiting to the point where I had nothing left. This lasted 2 days, by Day 8 I was feeling a lot better. I actually woke up hungry. After that it was just a case of waiting for the blisters to scab and fall off and I would be fine.

There is not enough information online about chicken pox in adults so I didn't know whether I should be phoning an ambulance or not (I live alone). Chicken pox in adults is far worse than children but really what is the limit as to when to seek medical attention. I didn't know and wanted to die, but I didn't need medical attention in the end.

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Louise1971 said on 28 April 2014

I was 4 months pregnant when my two children contracted chicken pox, my husband also. My midwife was not concerned, and so I did not worry. My baby was born healthy, she's 13 years old now!

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squizb1 said on 13 February 2010

I caught c.pox Sept 09 while 13wks pregnant in the West Midlands. It was rife during this season. I never had it as a child, therefore had no prior immunity to it. I still do not know if my son is immune, will get shingles as a toddler or may catch c.pox as a child. Thankfully he was born healthy with no health or medical complications. It was an horrific experience not knowing if he would be ok. I can sympathise with anyone pregnant and not immune to this horrible disease.

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