Pregnancy & Flu Don’t Mix: Keep Moms-to-Be Healthy This Season
January 21st, 2014
by Siobhan Dolan, M.D.
Obstetrician gynecologist and clinical geneticist,
Albert Einstein College of Medicine/Montefiore Medical Center
Medical Advisor, March of Dimes
Author of Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby
According to CDC reports, overall flu activity continues to be high. In mid-January, 35 states are reporting widespread flu activity, and 10 flu-related deaths of children have been confirmed.
Now that we are moving into peak flu season, I want to remind every pregnant woman to go get her flu shot. And it’s not too late! Getting a flu vaccination is the best way to protect yourself and your baby from the flu.
CDC surveillance data has shown that the predominant flu strain this year is H1N1, the same that emerged in 2009 to cause a pandemic. Since this strain causes more severe illness in children and young adults, compared to older adults, young women and children are at increased risk. So it is even more important to be vaccinated if you are pregnant. The flu vaccine is safe and effective during pregnancy.
In addition to getting the vaccine, here’s what you should know about flu and pregnancy:
THE FLU CAN HARM YOUR PREGNANCY.
Health complications from the flu, such as pneumonia, can be serious and even deadly, especially if you’re pregnant. Pregnant women who get the flu are more likely than women who don’t get it to have preterm labor and premature birth. Prematurity can cause serious lifelong health problems for your baby.
The flu can be harmful during pregnancy because when you’re pregnant, your immune system isn’t as quick to respond to illnesses as it was before pregnancy. Your body naturally lowers the immune system’s ability to protect you and respond to illnesses so that it can welcome your growing baby. But a lowered immune system means you’re more likely to catch illnesses like the flu.
Another reason the flu can be harmful during pregnancy is that your heart and lungs are already working hard to keep up with the demands of the growing fetus. They can’t always keep up with the stress placed on them by influenza infection. As a result, pregnant women are more likely to be hospitalized in intensive care and more likely to die from complications of flu.
DON’T IGNORE FLU-LIKE SYMPTOMS DURING PREGNANCY.
If you think you might have the flu, call your health care provider right away.
Your doctor can give you antiviral medicines to help fight the flu, but you need a prescription for them. So call your doctor as soon as you have symptoms and are concerned. It’s important to start these medicines right away.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends two antiviral medicines for flu. Talk to your provider about which medicine is right for you:
1. Oseltamivir (Tamiflu)
2. Zanamivir (Relenza)
Fever is a symptom of the flu that can last a week or longer. A fever caused by flu infection or other infections early in pregnancy can lead to birth defects in a fetus. Pregnant women who get a fever should call their doctor as soon as possible. You can ask your health care provider if you can take acetaminophen (Tylenol®) to bring down your fever.
And remember: It’s not too late to get the flu vaccine. It is offered in many locations, including doctor’s offices, clinics, health departments, and pharmacies. Visit the HealthMap Vaccine Finder to locate where you can get a flu shot.
For more information about pregnancy and flu: