Pregnant women are harder hit by flu than women of the same age who are not pregnant. Their symptoms are usually more severe, there are more hospitalizations, and they’re at higher risk of premature delivery or even death.
Although the infection doesn’t travel from the woman to her fetus, if the mom-to-be is infected, her infection may indirectly hurt the fetus.
A premature delivery may mean the baby is too small, or underdeveloped. It can even mean death for the baby. If fever is present, mom’s infection can also lead to an assortment of abnormalities in the baby.
Why is this? Well, we can’t say for sure.
Part of a pregnant woman’s immune system is changed, or weakened, during pregnancy. This happens so that the woman’s body won’t attack the fetus as a foreign invader.
This altered immune state may allow a flu virus to attack, causing harm to the pregnant woman.
It’s also possible that part of the immune response is actually boosted during pregnancy, causing an increase in inflammation in the lungs when a pregnant woman is infected with a flu virus.
This in turn may be causing the increase in death and illness found in some flu-infected pregnant women.
The fact that pregnant women’s organs are squished may also increase the risk of pneumonia or other problems. Also, because of the increased blood volume, a pregnant woman’s lungs are a little “wetter” and less capable of resisting a severe infection.
Could be, may, might — that’s not what we want to hear. We want definite reasons so that we can use definite means to prevent all of this.
Unfortunately, it’s just not that simple.
If you’re pregnant, be extra cautious when it comes to flu. Call your provider as soon as you have symptoms — early treatment makes a big difference.
Symptoms may include:
• Cough or sore throat
• Runny or stuffy nose
• Muscle or body aches, headaches
• Vomiting and diarrhea (although this is more common in children)
CDC recommends that if you are pregnant and have any of these signs, you should call 911 right away:
• Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
• Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
• Sudden dizziness
• Severe or persistent vomiting
• High fever that is not responding to Tylenol® (or store brand equivalent)
• Decreased or no movement of your baby
CDC recommends that individuals six months of age and older be immunized each year against flu.
Immunization and clean hands are the two best tools to prevent infection. Check with your healthcare provider to see about staying up-to-date on your immunizations.