By Vandna Jerath, MD
I recently returned from a conference out-of-town and have been ill with a respiratory infection. Those plane flights get me every time. I’ve been wiped out and exhausted, but luckily, it was not the flu. My recent illness is another reminder that flu season is upon us once again. It is important for pregnant women to be immunized against the flu. Why? Here are the facts you should know about the flu and flu shot in pregnancy.
- Pregnant women are more prone to severe illness and pregnancy complications from the flu. Physiologic changes and an altered immune system in pregnancy make pregnant women high-risk candidates for the flu.
- In pregnancy, the flu can cause dehydration, pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), miscarriage, preterm labor, or preterm delivery and birth.
- In 2009, pregnant women accounted for only 1% of the population, but 6% of H1N1 related deaths. During 2012-2013 flu season, 233 pregnant women were hospitalized.
- ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists), CDC (Center for Disease Control), and ACIP (Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices) recommends that ALL pregnant women receive the flu shot.
- It is estimated that only 50% of pregnant women receive the flu shot and it is imperative that more women be vaccinated.
- Influenza vaccination is the best way to prevent the flu – it can reduce your risk of catching the flu by 70-90% and decrease your risk of hospitalization or death by 50-80%.
- Vaccination during pregnancy protects both the mother and her infant (up to 6 months of age).
- Influenza vaccine is SAFE as it has been given to millions of pregnant women and has not demonstrated harm to women or their infants.
- The flu shot can be given to pregnant women in ANY trimester.
- Pregnant women should receive the inactivated vaccine (killed virus) or flu shot, but NOT the nasal spray vaccine (live attenuated virus) which is contraindicated. You cannot get the flu from the flu shot.
- Postpartum women – especially within two weeks after pregnancy or pregnancy loss – should also receive the flu vaccine and may receive either the shot or nasal spray.
- Women who are breastfeeding are encouraged to receive either type of vaccine and can pass antibodies via the breast milk to their infants which may provide passive immunity. This is one of the best ways to protect infants under 6 months of age, who are too young to be vaccinated.
- If preferred, a thimerosal free version of the flu shot is available. There is no scientific evidence that thimerosal containing vaccines cause adverse effects in children born to women who received vaccines with thimersol.
- Women with an egg allergy or who are actively ill with a fever should not get the flu shot.
- Influenza vaccination is an essential part of prenatal care and recommended for all pregnant, breastfeeding, or postpartum women.
Please talk to your healthcare provider about getting your flu shot and learn more at immunizationforwomen or reviewing the CDC fact sheet. Flu season is October-May and it is ideal to be vaccinated early in the season, but pregnant women can receive the flu shot during any stage of pregnancy at any time during the influenza season.
As a healthcare provider, I receive my flu shot every year and will be getting one again as soon as I recover from my current respiratory illness.
Video Credit: CDC