Shingles can occur in pregnant people. However, it is rare for the condition to cause dangerous complications or affect a fetus.

Shingles is a skin rash with fluid-filled blisters that typically occur on one side of the body. Shingles can cause itching and pain.

If a person has had chickenpox, the virus that caused it can reactivate in later life and cause shingles. The fluid in shingles blisters can also transmit the virus to people who are not immune to chickenpox.

Although shingles typically causes no harm during pregnancy, chickenpox can lead to complications. If a pregnant person is not immune to chickenpox, they will need to avoid contact with people with shingles.

This article looks at the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of shingles, and the outlook for people who develop shingles during pregnancy.

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Shingles is a skin rash that can cause itching, pain, and fluid-filled blisters. The varicella-zoster virus (VZV) that causes shingles is the same virus that causes chickenpox.

Once a person has chickenpox, VZV remains dormant in their body. It can sometimes become active again and cause shingles. In the United States, shingles may affect around 1 in 3 people.

Experts are not sure what causes VZV to reactivate. However, the risk increases as a person ages. Being over 60 years old and having a weakened immune system may increase the likelihood of reactivation.

Learn about the link between chickenpox and shingles here.

VZV can transmit through direct contact with the fluid from the blisters of a shingles rash.

It can affect people who have not had chickenpox in the past and those who are not vaccinated against chickenpox. If these people come into contact with VZV, it can cause chickenpox. Later on, VZV may reactivate in the body and cause shingles.

VZV is not transmissible before the blisters appear or after they crust over. Covering a shingles rash reduces the risk of VZV passing to others.

VZV causes chickenpox, which means that contact with a person who has chickenpox can transmit the virus. This is more likely than contracting VZV from coming into contact with shingles.

Learn about how a person can contract shingles.

According to March of Dimes, shingles during pregnancy rarely leads to complications in the fetus.

If a person has shingles symptoms while pregnant, they need to talk with a healthcare professional for diagnosis and treatment.

If a person develops shingles just before or just after giving birth, they must take steps to protect their baby from coming into contact with the shingles rash. Covering the rash and frequent handwashing can help this.

Breastfeeding with shingles

A person may be able to breastfeed with shingles, so long as the rash is not on their breast.

It is important to talk with a healthcare professional about whether it is safe to breastfeed with shingles. A person must also contact a healthcare professional if they think their baby has come into contact with a shingles rash.

To diagnose shingles, a doctor will assess a person’s symptoms and check whether they have had chickenpox in the past. Shingles is typically straightforward to diagnose, so a visual assessment is often enough.

If a shingles rash appears similar to other conditions or a person has a weakened immune system, a doctor may take a blood test or swab a blister for laboratory testing. This can show whether a person has VZV or VZV antibodies.

A doctor can then determine whether a person has chickenpox or shingles, depending on their symptoms.

According to the National Institutes of Health, people typically experience a shingles rash on one side of the body, most commonly around one side of the waist. Other symptoms of shingles can include:

  • a tingling or burning sensation on the skin, which may be the first symptom
  • itchy or numb skin
  • pain, which may be mild or intense
  • chills and fever
  • headache
  • upset stomach
  • a rash, which may appear 1–5 days after the initial tingling sensation
  • fluid-filled blisters, which may form a few days after the rash and last for 7–10 days before crusting over

The scabs typically clear a few weeks after the blisters form a crust.

Shingles may last for 3–5 weeks.

Find pictures of shingles rashes here.

Antiviral medications treat shingles. If a person is pregnant and has shingles, they must tell a healthcare professional that they are pregnant. This is so the healthcare professional knows to prescribe medication that is safe to take during pregnancy.

Antiviral medication is most effective when people take it as soon as possible after noticing a shingles rash.

A healthcare professional can also suggest safe and effective over-the-counter treatments for treating symptoms such as itching and pain.

Learn about home remedies for shingles here.

People who have had the varicella vaccine or chickenpox are immune to getting chickenpox again. If a person is unsure whether they are immune, a doctor can perform a test to check this.

However, if a person has had chickenpox in the past, VSV can reactivate and cause shingles.

People who are pregnant and not immune to chickenpox can try to avoid being around anyone who has chickenpox or a shingles rash that has not crusted over.

If a person is not immune to chickenpox and wishes to become pregnant, they may choose to get the varicella vaccine before becoming pregnant to protect against chickenpox.

The varicella vaccine is unsuitable to receive during pregnancy, so people must wait 1 month after the last injection before becoming pregnant.

If a person is pregnant and develops a rash, they can contact a doctor to determine whether it is shingles or something else. A doctor will be able to provide a diagnosis and safe treatment options.

It is important to contact a doctor as soon as possible if a person thinks they have shingles, as treatment is most effective when started right away.

People will also need to contact a doctor if they have a shingles rash on their face, especially if blisters appear near the eyes. Blisters around the eye area can cause serious complications without prompt treatment, including eye damage, blindness, or temporary facial paralysis. In rare cases, it may lead to inflammation of the brain.

Learn more about shingles near the eye here.

It is rare for shingles to cause any complications for a fetus during pregnancy.

Contacting a doctor as soon as possible, and no longer than 3 days after a rash first appears, may mean treatment is more effective. Prompt treatment may also help reduce pain and help the rash clear up sooner.

Shingles can sometimes cause long lasting nerve pain, called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). People can talk with a doctor if they think they have PHN. PHN will typically ease over time.

If a person develops chickenpox during pregnancy, it can increase the risk of serious complications. If a person comes into contact with chickenpox during pregnancy and does not have immunity, receiving treatment within 10 days of the contact can help treat the infection and reduce the risk.

VZV causes chickenpox and shingles. In people who have had chickenpox, VZV can reactivate later in life and cause shingles.

VZV can transmit through direct contact with the fluid from the blisters of a shingles rash.

If a person is pregnant and has not had chickenpox or the varicella vaccine, it is important that they avoid people who have shingles.

A person must contact a doctor as soon as possible after developing a rash that could be shingles. Prompt treatment may help reduce the pain and duration of shingles.

A doctor will be able to prescribe antivirals that are safe to take during pregnancy. It is rare for shingles to affect the fetus during pregnancy.