Over 200,000 people in the United States are hospitalized each year from complications of influenza (the flu). Research has shown that pregnant women are at increased risk for serious complications of the flu. Since the best way to protect against the flu is to get vaccinated before flu season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all women who will be pregnant or who are pregnant during the flu season be vaccinated.
A number of factors make pregnant women more susceptible to complications associated with the flu. For instance, pregnant women’s hearts are working harder, they have decreased lung capacity, and their immunity may be compromised.
Pregnant women who get the flu are at greater risk for serious illness and even death. If you experience flu symptoms (fever over 101ºF, chills, sweating, muscle aches, headache, runny nose, cough, sore throat), call your doctor. With proper care, serious complications can be prevented.
A study published in the April 2005 issue of the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology looked at 252 women who received the flu shot during their second or third trimester. Researchers found that there were no adverse effects on pregnancy outcomes associated with the flu shot.
The CDC has approved use of the flu shot, which contains an inactivated flu virus, for pregnant women. However, the nasal-spray flu vaccine, which contains live, weakened flu viruses, is not approved for pregnant women. So if you are pregnant, make sure you get a flu shot, not the nasal spray vaccine.
Since the flu season in North America can begin as early as October and last as late as May, October is the best time to get a flu shot, but you can still get vaccinated any time during the flu season. If you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant during this year’s flu season, talk to your doctor in advance about getting a flu shot. It's important to note that, in some years, there is not always enough vaccine for everyone who needs one, especially early in the season. However, the CDC and state public health departments invariably include pregnant women in a "priority category."
Once vaccinated, you most likely will have no serious problems. However, complications may occur. Minor side effects include soreness, redness, or swelling at the injection site; low-grade fever; and aches. More serious complications, such as severe allergic reactions, may occur on rare occasions.
On a final note, a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology estimated that an average of one to two hospitalizations could be prevented each year for every 1,000 pregnant women who get the flu vaccine.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Food and Drug Administration
Public Health Canada
Women's Health Matters
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prevention and control of influenza: recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). MMWR. 2005;54(No. RR-8).
Fiore AE, Uyeki TM, Broder K, Finelli L, Euler GL, Singleton JA, Iskander JK, et al. Prevention and control of influenza with vaccines: recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), 2010. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). MMWR Recomm Rep. 2010;59(RR-8):1-62.
Influenza in pregnancy. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php. Updated April 9, 2012. Accessed June 4, 2012.
It's not too late to get your flu vaccine. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://cdc.gov/Features/FluPrevention/. Updated January 30, 2012. Accessed June 4, 2012.
Key facts about flu vaccine. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/keyfacts.htm. Updated March 28, 2012. Accessed June 4, 2012.
Munoz FM, Greisinger AJ, Wehmanen OA, et al. Safety of influenza vaccination during pregnancy. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2005;192:1098-1106.
Neuzil KM, Reed GW, Mitchel EF, et al. Impact of influenza on acute cardiopulmonary hospitalizations in pregnant women. Am J Epidemiol. 1998;148:1094-1102.
Pregnancy: respiratory infections during pregnancy. American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/582.xml. Updated November 2010. Accessed June 4, 2012.
Pregnant women & influenza (flu). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/vaccine/pregnant.htm. Updated October 24, 2011. Accessed June 4, 2012.
Thimerosal and 2011-2012 seasonal flu vaccines. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/thimerosal.htm. Updated August 18, 2011. Accessed June 4, 2012.
Last reviewed June 2012 by Brian Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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