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Congenital varicella syndrome: still a problem?

A woman contracted chickenpox in the 12th week of gestation. Her general practitioner and later the consultant obstetrician warned her about the small risk of giving birth to a disabled child. She decided to continue the pregnancy without undergoing invasive tests to diagnose fetal intrauterine infection. Symptoms of congenital varicella syndrome (CVS) were detected by ultrasound in the 29th and 34th weeks of gestation. On admission to hospital, the baby was not considered infectious and was not isolated because polymerase chain reaction analysis to detect varicella zoster virus (VZV) DNA in the blood, cerebrospinal fluid, saliva, skin scrapings and feces gave negative results. He was also not separated from his mother. The mother was without clinical complications. Varicella during pregnancy may result in VZV transmission to the fetus or newborn. Intrauterine VZV infection in the first 28 weeks of gestation may result in CVS with limb deformities, brain abnormalities and mental retardation. Usually the newborn is not infectious, and therapy and isolation are unnecessary. When the mother catches the infection in the second trimester, the newborn may manifest shingles in the first 2 years of life. A maternal rash erupting 5 days before to 2 days after delivery is frequently associated with clinically severe varicella in the newborn, leading to high mortality if untreated. Then the newborn is infectious and must be isolated. This case report underlines the need for expert medical counseling for women who contract chickenpox at any time during pregnancy. It also underlines the importance of immunizing susceptible women of childbearing age before they become pregnant.

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