Published online Aug 12, 2016. doi: 10.5501/wjv.v5.i3.97
Peer-review started: April 23, 2016
First decision: July 5, 2016
Revised: July 8, 2016
Accepted: July 20, 2016
Article in press: July 22, 2016
Published online: August 12, 2016
Varicella-zoster virus, which is responsible for varicella (chickenpox) and herpes zoster (shingles), is ubiquitous and causes an acute infection among children, especially those aged less than six years. As 90% of adults have had varicella in childhood, it is unusual to encounter an infected pregnant woman but, if the disease does appear, it can lead to complications for both the mother and fetus or newborn. The major maternal complications include pneumonia, which can lead to death if not treated. If the virus passes to the fetus, congenital varicella syndrome, neonatal varicella (particularly serious if maternal rash appears in the days immediately before or after childbirth) or herpes zoster in the early years of life may occur depending on the time of infection. A Microbiology laboratory can help in the diagnosis and management of mother-child infection at four main times: (1) when a pregnant woman has been exposed to varicella or herpes zoster, a prompt search for specific antibodies can determine whether she is susceptible to, or protected against infection; (2) when a pregnant woman develops clinical symptoms consistent with varicella, the diagnosis is usually clinical, but a laboratory can be crucial if the symptoms are doubtful or otherwise unclear (atypical patterns in immunocompromised subjects, patients with post-vaccination varicella, or subjects who have received immunoglobulins), or if there is a need for a differential diagnosis between varicella and other types of dermatoses with vesicle formation; (3) when a prenatal diagnosis of uterine infection is required in order to detect cases of congenital varicella syndrome after the onset of varicella in the mother; and (4) when the baby is born and it is necessary to confirm a diagnosis of varicella (and its complications), make a differential diagnosis between varicella and other diseases with similar symptoms, or confirm a causal relationship between maternal varicella and malformations in a newborn.
Core tip: Although varicella during pregnancy is infrequent and congenital varicella syndrome (CVS) is rare, every available means should be used to prevent and diagnose them. Microbiology laboratories can be crucial in these situations: Evaluating a mother’s immune status with sensitive and specific tests for the detection of antibodies; allowing a rapid diagnosis with molecular biology tests when a clinical manifestation may be due to different etiologies; following pregnant women with varicella for the prenatal diagnosis of CVS with close collaboration between molecular biology investigators and specialists in imaging diagnostics.