If you develop shingles during pregnancy, it will not pass on to your baby. However, research does indicate there’s a genetic component to the condition.

After you have chickenpox, the virus that causes the condition, varicella zoster, goes dormant in your body. Much later, even years later, it can reactivate and cause shingles, an itchy, painful rash that appears on one side of the body.

If you develop shingles during pregnancy, it will not harm the baby or pass on to them. This is because your body already had the varicella zoster virus before developing shingles. No research has been done into whether varicella zoster passes through sperm.

Current research is lacking but suggests there is a genetic link to shingles. If you have a family member who had shingles, your risk of developing it later in life is higher, provided you had chickenpox first. Some researchers think there’s an increased risk due to the diminished function of specific cells in the immune system as we age.

So, while parents do not pass the active virus on to their children, they may pass a propensity to develop it on through the function of their immune system.

Shingles can appear at any age, but it’s rare in children and common after age 50. Most research on the genetic link of shingles is older and inconclusive on whether it’s actively passed on to children by their parents through genetics. This doesn’t refer to transmission by touch, but rather through genetic makeup.

One case study from 2020 evaluated a pregnant person who sought treatment for shingles. In this study, researchers noted that active shingles transmission to a fetus rarely occurs during pregnancy. If a pregnant person had shingles and the newborn came in contact with fluid from the rash, it would be at risk of developing chickenpox, not shingles.

A 2017 study noted that while research into the genetic link of shingles has been performed, results often come back inconclusive and open to bias. Their study of 1,112 people found a weak genetic link in the development of shingles.

Though genetics play some role in whether a person develops shingles during their lifetime, the link is still unclear to researchers. It may be due to the genetic makeup of the immune system. The HLA-B gene helps the body determine which proteins belong to the body and which are invaders. Changes to this gene, and other immune system genes, may increase a child’s risk of developing shingles later in life.

The 2017 study above, published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, evaluated 1,112 participants over 3 years. In the group, 556 had shingles, and 556 were control participants.

The participants self-reported their family history of developing shingles, and a weak link was found between having a family member who had previously had shingles and experiencing developing shingles themselves. The mean age in this study was 72.

Researchers included a comment that for people in the control group, memories of shingles in their families may not have been as clear as for those currently experiencing shingles themselves.

A 2017 study of 227 people with active shingles infections from villages in China supported these results. This study enrolled 678 control participants and found a weak link between a family history of shingles and current shingles cases.

If a pregnant person develops shingles, they will not pass it to the baby. Shingles only pass through direct contact with the fluid of the blisters of the rash. Even then, the person who touches the fluid is at risk of developing chickenpox, not shingles.

Some people are at greater risk of developing shingles. This includes people with compromised immune systems, like anyone undergoing chemotherapy or who has HIV. Also, anyone receiving medications to suppress their immune systems, such as steroids or anti-rejection drugs following organ donation, is at a greater risk.

Shingles causes an itchy, painful rash that develops years after you have chickenpox. This is because the virus that causes chickenpox goes dormant in your body and later reactivates as shingles.

There’s a weak genetic link to shingles, although researchers do not understand it well, and studies are lacking. It cannot pass on during pregnancy. No studies have evaluated the transmissibility of the virus through sperm.

Parents may pass on genetic changes in the immune system that make the body more susceptible to shingles as you age.