What are the health risks if you get flu when you are carrying a baby? The Department of the Health in the UK recommends the flu shot for pregnant women. Is the flu vaccine safe if you are pregnant?
PREGNANCY AND FLU
Pregnant women are more susceptible to infections when they are pregnant as their immune system is reduced so they do not harm their baby. Their chances of getting flu are actually about the same as any normal person but pregnant women have a higher chance of developing COMPLICATIONS related to flu - complications which can be very serious. Serious complications from flu include:
- a type of pneumonia called viral pneumonia which the lungs fill with water. You have trouble breathing and your lungs will find it difficult to put oxygen back into your blood
- bronchitis (an inflammation of the bronchial tubes that bring air into the lungs)
- muscle inflammation known as myositis. The symptoms of myositis include muscle weakness, sometimes muscle pain, overall fatigue, potential difficulty swallowing and trouble getting up stairs or climbing uphill
- infections of the central nervous system or the sac around the heart
- sinus infections
- ear infections
- a worsening of chronic illnesses such as diabetes, asthma or congestive heart failure
THE FLU SHOT AND PREGNANCY
As mentioned, the UK Department of Health do recommend that pregnant women should get the flu shot. The flu vaccine is actually quite a mild vaccine; you receive only one shot. Plus the flu virus in the vaccine is dead and goes nowhere near the fetus. The flu shot gives around 80% protection so there is still a chance of catching flu. But 80% is quite good - meaning 8 out of 10 people who have the flu jab will not get flu if exposed to it.
AVOIDING THE FLU WHEN PREGNANT
Flu is highly contagious so once a family member in your household gets it or a colleague who works close to you - it's tough to avoid it. But as influenza does spread, especially during the winter season, there are some things you can do to help prevent you catching it.
- Maintain good personal hygienie: wash hands frequently especially before touching your face
- Keep your house clean: especially areas that get handled by more than one person such as door handles, the remote control, door locks, keys etc
- Don't share towels, toothbrushes, handkerchiefs
- Drink lots of water
- Eat healthy: lots of fruit and vegetables
- Try to avoid people who already have the flu. If your family member has flu already, ask them not to go to work or school to prevent it spreading further
- If you think you have flu (symptoms of flu may include body aches, headache, fever, dry/chesty cough, chills, tiredness, diarrhea or an upset stomach, sneezing, runny or blocked up nose, lose of appetite and a difficulty sleeping), and especially if you are having problems with your breathing, than go and see your doctor. There are anti-flu drugs which can help alleviate the symptoms of flu within 48 hours.
CAN YOU TAKE TAMIFLU IF YOU ARE PREGNANT?
Tamiflu is an effective medication for flu because tamiflu treats the cause of flu at the source, not simply treating the symptoms as medications such as paracetamol do. That means you are less likely to develop flu complications such as pneumonia, sinusitis and bronchitis. However, there is insufficient evidence at this stage on the effects of tamiflu on pregnant women and her fetus. Consult your doctor. Tamiflu is only prescribed for pregnant women if the specific case justifies it for the potential benefit of the fetus.