Current UK NSC recommendations > Varicella susceptibility

The UK NSC recommendation on Varicella susceptibility screening in pregnancy

Recommendation Systematic population screening programme not recommended
Last review completed March 2016
Next review due in 2018/19
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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.


Find general information about population health screening.

Why is screening not recommended by UK NSC?

Screening is not recommended because:

  • there is very little data on susceptibility to chickenpox in the UK or on the number of susceptible women who come into contact with the virus during pregnancy
  • current tests have not been evaluated for use in a screening programme
  • there was no research looking at whether a screening programme improved the delivery of VZIG, so there is uncertainty on whether a screening programme would be of benefit

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


British Society for Immunology
Institute of Child Health
Royal College of General Practitioners
Royal College of Midwives
Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health

The stakeholder groups will be involved when the recommendation is next reviewed. If you think your organisation should be added, please contact us. More information for stakeholders can be found in appendix C of the UK NSC evidence review process.

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