Flu season is upon us, and this year it seems to be in the news more than ever. If you are pregnant, this is particularly concerning as flu symptoms can be more severe, and the flu can be more dangerous during pregnancy.
Below we address some important questions and concerns related to the flu and pregnancy. If you have additional questions concerning the flu and your pregnancy, we encourage you to speak with your health care provider or Ob/Gyn.
#1 – “Is the flu vaccine safe in pregnancy?”
All pregnant women should talk to their obstetrician about the flu vaccine. The CDC recommends the inactivated virus for all pregnant women, regardless of how far along in the pregnancy they are. The live influenza vaccine should be avoided in pregnancy. Additionally, when received during pregnancy, the influenza vaccine goes on to offer some protection against the flu to the newborn infant. This is extremely important because infants cannot receive the flu vaccine until they are six months of age.
#2 – “I am pregnant. What should I expect if I get the flu?”
Common symptoms of the flu include body aches, cough, runny nose, and sore throat. Fever is not uncommon. The disease can last longer and be more severe in pregnancy, and pregnant women are more likely to be hospitalized than non-pregnant women.
#3 – “What do I do if I think I have the flu?”
Pregnant women who suspect they have the flu should discuss this with their doctor immediately. He or she will do the same nasal swab that is used for non-pregnant adults. If there is a high suspicion that a pregnant woman has the flu, her doctor may prescribe treatment before the test result is back.
#4 – “I have the flu. Does this affect my baby?”
The flu cannot be passed to the unborn baby. While there is limited information about how the flu affects the fetus, we do know that the flu vaccine is quite safe for both the mother and baby. After delivery, women who contract the flu should be encouraged to continue breastfeeding their newborn.
#5 – “What treatment is available for the flu?”
The most commonly prescribe d treatment is an antiviral pill called oseltamivir. This is used to treat women who test positive for the flu, as well as pregnant women who have a known exposure and high likelihood of getting the flu. Oseltamivir is typically taken twice a day for five days.
Oseltamivir is quite safe in both pregnancy and breastfeeding. Acetaminophen can safely be used to treat body ache and fever. Aspirin and ibuprofen should be avoided in pregnancy. Humidified air can be helpful for the symptoms of congestion. Very rarely are antibiotics prescribed, and only for other infections such as pneumonia and ear infections.
#6 – “What can I do to prevent contracting the flu?”
The spread of infection can be prevented by washing hands thoroughly, and frequently, with soap and water. Household surfaces should be disinfected frequently. Pregnant women should take special precaution to avoid contact with individuals who may have the flu. If contact is unavoidable, face masks can be worn for protection. In general, good hygiene practices go a long way to prevent the spread of infection.
Remember . . .
Flu outbreaks are common this time of the year. Wash your hands regularly, be sure to get vaccinated with the inactivated influenza vaccine, and discuss potential flu symptoms with your doctor. Let’s do what we can to keep moms, families, and children healthy and happy this flu season!
About Lindsey Deschamps, MD
Dr. Lindsey Deschamps is a board certified OB hospitalist at WakeMed North Women’s Hospital.