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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.

But you should contact your midwife or GP for advice as you may need antiviral treatment.

How do you get shingles?

You can only get shingles if you have already had chickenpox. Both illnesses are 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.

You can't catch shingles from someone else.

Can I catch chickenpox from someone who has shingles?

If you're not immune to chickenpox, it's possible to catch VZV, which causes chickenpox, from someone who has shingles.

But the risk is low, particularly if the person's shingles rash is covered (for example, by clothing or a dressing).

In shingles, the herpes VZV is passed on from the exposed rash, usually by direct contact (for example, by touching the person's open blisters). But 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're 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.

What if I have already had chickenpox?

Most pregnant women in the UK would have had chickenpox as children, 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 or call NHS 111 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

Page last reviewed: 8 October 2018
Next review due: 8 October 2021