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    Shingles During Pregnancy

    Shingles Treatment During Pregnancy continued...

    If you believe you have shingles, it's important to see your doctor right away, because you must begin one of these medications within a few days of a shingles outbreak for best results. If your doctor prescribes an antiviral medication, it's important to take it exactly as directed. Most are taken once daily for several days. When taken as directed, these drugs should be safe during pregnancy.

    In addition to the medications your doctor prescribes, there are over-the-counter (OTC) medications and self-help measures for relieving shingles pain and itching and preventing infection. These include:

    • Cold compresses and cool baths to relieve blisters
    • Loose clothing and clean gauze coverings over affected areas to hasten healing of blisters and prevent infection
    • Antihistamines (particularly Benadryl), oatmeal baths, and calamine lotion to reduce itching
    • The OTC painkiller acetaminophen. Before taking any OTC medication, it's important to speak with your doctor. Pregnant women should not take NSAIDs late in pregnancy.

    Shingles Prevention: Reduce Your Risk

    The varicella-zoster virus is highly contagious. If you have not had chickenpox, it's important that you avoid exposure to anyone known to have the infection -- or even crowds where you may come in contact with the infection, particularly if you are pregnant. If you already had chickenpox, you cannot catch shingles from someone with chickenpox or shingles.

    Having chickenpox during pregnancy could potentially lead to chickenpox infection or birth defects in your unborn child, depending on when you are infected. Shingles, too, could potentially cause problems for your baby, but most experts agree the risk is less than with chickenpox. In one large study, there was no evidence of fetal harm in pregnant women who developed shingles.

    If you're not sure if you have had chickenpox, your doctor can perform a blood test to check for antibodies to VZV. If you have the antibodies (indicating you have already had chickenpox infection), you run the risk of shingles in the future, but you cannot catch shingles from someone else.

    There is also a vaccine called Zostavax that can help prevent shingles. In clinical studies, the vaccine reduced the overall occurrence of shingles by half. For people who were vaccinated and got shingles anyway, the severity was dramatically reduced. But the time to get the vaccine is before you get pregnant. The vaccine's manufacturer recommends waiting at least three months after getting the vaccine before attempting to become pregnant.

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