Varicella and the pregnant woman: Prevention and management

Authors

  • Andrew J. DALEY,

    1. Infection Control Department and
    2. Department of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, The Royal Women's Hospital and The Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne,
    3. Departments of Pathology and
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  • Susan THORPE,

    1. Infection Control Department and
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  • Suzanne M. GARLAND

    1. Department of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, The Royal Women's Hospital and The Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne,
    2. Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
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: Dr Andrew Daley, Department of Microbiology, The Royal Children's Hospital, Flemington Road, Parkville, Vic. 3052, Australia. Email: andrew.daley@rch.org.au

Abstract

Infection with varicella zoster virus (VZV) is often considered a childhood ‘right of passage’; however, primary infection occurring in women of child-bearing age can have significant adverse consequences both for the mother and for her fetus. During the first trimester, primary VZV infection may result in stillbirth or a baby born with the stigmata of the congenital varicella syndrome, while infection in the peripartum period can result in neonatal varicella, which carries a significant mortality rate despite appropriate antiviral therapy. Varicella in pregnant women can progress to pneumonitis and other severe sequelae that may also compromise the viability of the fetus. Exposure to VZV most commonly occurs in the community or from children in the household, but occasionally, exposure may occur in the hospital environment. Determining a woman's serostatus prior to pregnancy is advised, as effective vaccines are now available and should be administered to non-pregnant seronegative women of child-bearing age. Clinical practice guidelines for management of a pregnant woman exposed to VZV are presented.

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