Mellow Mummy: Can a newborn baby catch Chicken Pox? YES! : Taking life as it comes...

Tuesday 29 May 2012

Can a newborn baby catch Chicken Pox? YES!

When Holly was just one week old, her older sister developed Chicken Pox. It wasn't great timing but Lara coped well and suffered from very little other than a large number of not-particularly-itchy spots. At the time, our practice nurse, midwife and then health visitor all assured me that Holly, as a neonatal (newborn) baby, was highly unlikely to catch the Chicken Pox virus from her sister due to residual immunity she had obtained from me in the womb. Unlikely, but as it turns out, not impossible. 14 days later, Holly's spots appeared. Yes, a newborn can catch Chicken Pox.

Theoretically, a newborn baby should retain all, or some of their mother's immunity to viruses and diseases for around 4 weeks after birth. A breastfed child will also receive top-ups of this immunity. This is why it took my G.P. by surprise when I rang him to ask for advice. It is so unusual to catch Chicken Pox at Holly's age that the Doctor had to consult some books and ring the pediatricians at the local hospital for guidance. He rang me back and sounded a lot less mellow than he had done the first time.

Until a baby reaches about one month old, their immune system is not developed enough to combat the Chicken Pox virus alone and this can lead to complications beyond the normal Chicken Pox symptoms of fever and spots. He called me in to the surgery to verify the spots were indeed the pox. Holly and I were quarantined in the surgery so that she couldn't infect others in the waiting room. As the Doctor walked into the room, he nodded and could tell straight away that it was indeed what I had suspected. He seemed quite excited and even congratulated me on managing to achieve something so rare that he hadn't seen it before - hmm, what an achievement to be proud of!!!

Holly was prescribed a course of anti-viral drugs in an infant suspension. Unfortunately, because the herpes virus (which is what chicken pox is, after all) is so rare in infants, most pharmacies don't stock the suspension - I tried my two local pharmacies with no luck. This was 4pm and I really wanted to get Holly's drugs that afternoon rather than order them for the next day so we drove into town to try the bigger Boots pharmacy. It was hot so I hurried in from the car park and didn't even bother putting Holly's car seat onto its travel system wheels. Sadly, even Boots didn't have it so I hobbled up the road in the blazing sun with the heavy infant carrier - but still no luck. By the time I got back to the car I was sweaty, stressed and emotional. I decided I needed Mr B's help as it was now 4.30 and having to take Holly out of the car at each pharmacy was eating up time.

I dropped into the office and dragged Mr B out of a meeting (he was very grumpy about this) and while I waited I burst into tears in front of the receptionist. She came to my rescue and quickly googled lots of phone numbers of pharmacies throughout Berkshire and started to ring them for me. Mr B arrived so we got on the road and started calling the pharmacies as we headed out of town towards bigger, better pharmacies that might still be open after 5pm. Luckily we found one who had the drug and agreed to put it aside for us. Panic over.

Administering sticky medicine to a newborn is messy but we managed and now the course of drugs is complete. The drugs seemed to kick in within about 48 hours - Holly's spots never got as big or as blistered as Laras and no new ones appeared after the course of treatment started. Holly may have had some of my immunity so perhaps only had a mild case of Chicken Pox - I don't suppose that she even noticed.

Lots of people have said to me, "well at least she has got it over and done with early", but unfortunately things don't work like that. Because a newborn's immune system is still developing, they are unlikely to develop a full immunity to the virus. Also, because the case was mild and treated with drugs, it is likely that Holly could still catch Chicken Pox later in her life. Ho hum.

Ah well, that's one more motherhood myth dispelled. A newborn baby can catch Chicken Pox, even when breastfed.

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