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Is Shingles (Herpes Zoster) Contagious to Newborns?

We often get our users asking this common question, “Is Shingles Contagious (meaning can it spread) from mother to child in new born babies?” In short it can and there are possibilities of complications in later life for the newborn baby.

Herpes Zoster or Shingles as they are popularly called is a condition which is often an after effect of chicken pox. The virus which enters human bodies at the time of chicken pox does not completely terminate with the cure of the disease. It continues to survive in human nerve cells and strikes later in the form of “Herpes Zoster”.

The affected are usually adults over the age of forty. However children can also get affected with shingles in certain circumstances. If the mother of a child has had chicken pox a few weeks before child birth, that child will grow up with the possibility of having paediatric shingles. Infants affected with chicken pox will have the possibility of having shingles in later years of life.

Individuals who have not had chicken pox are more prone to be affected with shingles, particularly children. The virus spread when someone comes in direct contact with the wound or the rashes. However shingles do not spread simply by remaining in close proximity. The virus is not air borne and do not affect the lungs or the respiratory tract, therefore there are no possibility of it spreading through air. Shingles happen when the dormant virus in our nerve cells gets activated due to some unknown reason.

The Herpes Zoster Virus (HZV) virus can affect an expecting mother, but that does not always end up in Shingles. The mother to be is more vulnerable during the first few weeks of pregnancy when the VZV virus can cause chicken pox which in turn might affect the congeniality of the unborn child.

If a would-be-mother develops shingles within 3 weeks of delivering, there are remote possibilities that the child born might get affected with shingles within the first five years of life. Antibodies develop within the mother’s body from the time the illness grows in the mother’s body till the baby is born. In most cases some of these antibodies are transmitted to the child but still the risk of being contaminated with the virus remains since the baby’s immune system is under developed.

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