The Flu and pregnancy can make for a scary combination. This respiratory infection, caused by the influenza virus, is an undesirable but predictable winter illness which has the potential to be more severe for expectant moms. Obstetricians worry about their patients during this time but are especially concerned this year. Most pregnant women are healthy but when they get sick it can be quick and severe. This scares most OBs which is why we encourage pregnant women to get the flu vaccine and to seek care early if they have certain symptoms.
This 2017-2018 influenza season is the worse in over ten years. There are more people seeking care, more hospitalizations, more deaths, and the outbreak is more widespread. The extent of the infections has led to it being described as a flu epidemic. Pregnant women need to be aware and stay alert for signs that indicate they should seek emergency treatment.
Read more: The pregnancy-safe way to beat cold and flu
How do you know it’s the Flu?
The difference between a common cold and the flu can sometimes be confusing. They both present with cough, congestion, and even a sore throat. Symptoms of a common cold are usually limited to the upper respiratory tract while the flu tends to have effects throughout the entire body producing fever, muscle pain, headaches, and weakness. In many cases the symptoms of the flu occur suddenly, and signs of recovery appear within two to five days. Individuals with other medical problems such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, or those with a suppressed immune system may not be able to combat the infection as easily as individuals who are completely healthy.
Why is it dangerous for moms-to-be?
Pregnant women are at greater risk due to the normal physiologic changes of pregnancy which makes it more difficult for them to combat infections. It can sometimes be difficult for healthcare providers to distinguish the difference between the normal changes of pregnancy and signs of a systemic infection. In previous flu outbreaks, pregnant women were more likely to need hospitalizations for the infection and more likely to require admission to an intensive care unit. In addition, they were five times more likely to die from influenza.
Read more: The 2018 flu is extra tough on babies, kids
What can you do to protect yourself?
Get the inactivated influenza vaccine as soon as possible. Since 2004 the CDC has recommended the inactivated influenza vaccine for all women who are pregnant during the flu season, no matter the timing of the pregnancy. Research studies have shown a significant reduction in the risk of flu-like illnesses in those who receive the vaccine. An additional benefit is that their newborns are protected as well.
Minimize your exposure. Avoid contact with those who have symptoms and if you can’t, avoid touching their hands or being exposed to their coughs and sneezes. Wash your hands often and keep sanitizer wipes handy. Clean surfaces that harbor microbes on a regular basis. This includes door handles, keyboards, mobile phones and especially items that are handled by many people.
Seek care immediately if you have a persistent high fever, fainting episodes, worsening symptoms, or you aren’t improving as expected. Have a low threshold to contact your doctor if you are unsure.
Pregnancy is an exciting but vulnerable time. Take care of yourself and your baby. Get the flu vaccine and be alert to any signs or symptoms of an illness. Take the proper time off to recover and seek the advice of your healthcare provider if you are getting worse or not recovering as expected.