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Varicella susceptibility

The UK NSC policy on Varicella susceptibility screening in pregnancy


Type Antenatal
Last review completed October 2009
Next review due in 2012/13
Policy recommendation     Systematic population screening programme not recommended

In the context of the current primary prevention strategy of targeted immunisation to high risk groups there is insufficient evidence to recommend the introduction of routine antenatal screening for VZV susceptibility in the UK.

Current immunisation policy is to vaccinate non-immune healthcare workers.  Varicella vaccine is also recommended for healthy susceptible close household contacts of immunocompromised patients.

The policy for management of varicella in pregnancy is set by the Department of Health’s ‘Green Book’.

The RCOG also issued a green top guideline, ‘Chickenpox In Pregnancy’, in 2007.

The HPA included varicella in its guidelines on the management of rash illness in pregnancy, 2002.

Key downloads Last external review

What is screening?

Screening is a process of identifying apparently healthy people who may be at increased risk of a disease or condition. They can then be offered information, further tests and appropriate treatment to reduce their risk and/or any complications arising from the disease or condition. It is important to ensure that the benefits and downsides of screening have been properly thought through. The UK National Screening Committee (UK NSC) is responsible for reviewing screening policies every 3 years and making recommendations to ministers in the 4 UK countries about whether to not a screening programme for a certain condition should be set up.

» Find out more about screening, the role of the UK NSC or the policy review process

More about Varicella susceptibility

Varicella zoster virus (VZV) is the virus which causes chickenpox. In the UK chickenpox mostly occurs in children less than 10 years of age, causing a mild infection. A more serious infection is seen in adults and those with compromised immune systems. In the UK approximately 90% of women of childbearing age are protected against chickenpox.

Chickenpox acquired for the first time during pregnancy can result in serious maternal illness. It can also adversely affect the fetus and the risk of this happening depends upon the point at which maternal infection is acquired. However this remains very rare.

» Further information for pregnant women can be accessed at the RCOG website

Policy stakeholders

British Society for Immunology
Institute of Child Health
Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists

The stakeholder groups will be involved when the policy is next reviewed. If you think your organisation should be added, please contact us. More about the policy review process, including the role of stakeholders, can be found in the guide to Engaging with the UK NSC's policy review process.

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