What are the risks of shingles during pregnancy?

If you develop shingles when you’re pregnant, it’s usually mild and there’s no risk to you or your baby.

How do you get shingles?

You can only get shingles if you’ve already had chickenpox because they’re both caused by the same virus: the herpes varicella-zoster virus (VZV).

After you recover from chickenpox, the virus stays in your body and can become active again later in the form of shingles. This can happen at any time after you have chickenpox, sometimes years later.

Shingles is most common in people over 50, although younger people can also get it. Read more information about the causes of shingles.

Can I catch chickenpox from someone who has shingles?

If you’re not immune to chickenpox, it’s possible to catch the varicella-zoster virus that causes chickenpox from someone who has shingles. However, the risk is low, particularly if the person’s shingle's rash is covered, for example, by clothing or a dressing.

In shingles, the herpes varicella-zoster virus is passed on from the exposed rash, usually by direct contact, for example, by touching an infected person’s open blisters, however the risk is very small. 

The risk of someone with shingles passing on the virus is higher if their rash is:

  • widespread
  • on an exposed part of their body, such as their face

If someone has shingles and their immune system is weakened, for example, as a result of chemotherapy treatment for cancer, they are considered infectious even if their rash is covered. This is because their body may release (shed) more virus than a person whose immune system is working normally. Once all the blisters have crusted over, the person is no longer infectious.

Can I catch shingles from someone else?

It is not possible to catch 'shingles' itself from someone with the condition. See How do you get shingles? above.

What if I’ve already had chickenpox?

Most pregnant women in the UK would have had chickenpox as children and so are immune to VZV.

If you’re immune to VZV, you can’t catch chickenpox again from someone with shingles.

When to get medical advice

Contact your GP or midwife immediately if you develop any rash when you’re pregnant, including a rash that develops after contact with someone who has shingles or chickenpox.

Read the answers to more questions about pregnancy.

Further information:


Preparing for birth

This video from Best Beginnings shows four prospective mums - Melissa, Maria, Teresa and Angela - as they prepare for their births.

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Page last reviewed: 08/12/2013

Next review due: 07/12/2015