Pregnant Women Encouraged to Get the Flu Vaccine
Influenza is widespread, and Intermountain Healthcare experts say it is important for everyone to receive their annual influenza vaccine, especially pregnant women.
Salt Lake City, UT (PRUnderground) December 16th, 2022
Influenza is already widespread in the U.S., which means the flu can quickly spread everywhere though holiday gatherings. Add the flu to the other respiratory viruses circulating – such as COVID-19 and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) – which are already filling pediatric ICUs – and influenza will just add to those high volumes.
“When you’re pregnant, you’re more at risk for getting the flu. And the flu can have serious effects on both mom and baby. It can take up to two weeks for your body to have its optimal response to the influenza vaccine, so now is the time to get vaccinated before we gather with family and friends for the holidays,” said Lexi Eller, associate medical director for women’s health at Intermountain Healthcare and a maternal-fetal medicine physician who specializes in high-risk pregnancy
Why pregnant women are more susceptible to the flu
“When you’re pregnant your immune system is naturally suppressed to protect the baby, but makes this makes pregnant women more susceptible to certain infections like the flu. Also, the cardivoascular changes of pregnancy put additional stress on the heart and lungs, and having the flu on top of it creates additional stress the heart on lungs.
All of these things together make pregnant women (and women up to two weeks postpartum) more prone to severe illness or hospitalization from the flu,” she added.
Why the flu can be serious for pregnant women and their unborn baby
Dr. Eller says pregnant women who have the flu may be:
- More likely to be hospitalized
- At higher risk of pregnancy complications, such as preterm labor and preterm birth.
- At risk of having a baby with neural tube birth defects or other adverse outcomes due to fever.
“Women may also have an increase in severe birth defects if high fever (which often accompanies the flu) occurs very early in pregnancy. Women are most vulnerable the first eight weeks of pregnancy,” said Dr. Eller.
Flu vaccines are safe and recommended for pregnant women
Getting a flu vaccine is the first and most important step in protecting against flu and helps protect both the mother and her baby from the flu.
“When given early in pregnancy, the vaccine protects babies from the flu for the first several months after their birth because the mom passes antibodies onto the developing baby. Once babies are six months or older, they can get their own vaccine. It’s also recommended that all children or people in the household be vaccinated for the flu each year,” said Dr. Eller.
Flu shots have been given to millions of pregnant women over many years with a good safety record. There is a lot of evidence that flu vaccines can be given safely during pregnancy.
“Pregnant women can get vaccinated during any trimester of their pregnancy. Pregnant women should not get the nasal spray flu vaccine, as it contains a live strain of the virus,” she added.
Flu vaccination has been shown to reduces risk of symptomatic flu and flu-associated acute respiratory infection by about 50 percent in pregnant women. A 2018 study showed that getting a flu shot reduced a pregnant woman’s risk of being hospitalized with flu by an average of 40 percent. The last 10 years of data, shows two thirds of those hospitalized for flu were unvaccinated.
Dr. Eller said pregnant women may be at extra risk for flu if they are immunocompromised or have additional conditions such as diabetes, lung disease, a cancer diagnosis, or are taking steroids regularly.
Ways to prevent the spread of disease (flu or COVID-19)
- Get a seasonal flu vaccine. Everyone in the family (over the age of 6 months) should get a vaccine, plus anyone who provides childcare.
- Wear a mask, being sure it covers your nose and mouth snuggly.
- Wash your hands often and well, and have children do the same.
- If you’re sick, stay home from school or work.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick, if possible.
- Cover your sneezes and coughs.
- Use a tissue once, then throw it away and wash your hands.
Signs and symptoms of the flu
Seasonal flu symptoms usually come on fast, causing chills, fever, muscle aches, tiredness, dry cough, and sore throat. Occasionally, seasonal flu will cause a runny or stuffy nose or, in young children, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. It is important to note you can spread the virus before you show signs of illness.
When to see a doctor
“Pregnant women are advised to contact their provider early if they have any flu-like symptoms, as they may be good candidate for prophylactiantic anti-viral medications to reduce the severity and duration of the flu. If pregnant women have a know flu exposure, they should contact their provider about anti-virals,” said Dr. Eller.
Other steps to treat the flu include getting plenty of rest and drinking plenty of fluids. Pregnant women are advised to talk with their doctor before taking any over the counter medications for the flu.
For more information
Ask your doctor about getting a flu vaccine. Or for locations to receive the flu vaccine, go to intermountainhealthcare.org/flu.
Dr. Lexi Eller is associate medical director for women’s health at Intermountain Healthcare and Intermountain Medical Group. Dr. Eller is a practicing maternal-fetal medicine physician who specializes in high-risk pregnancy.
About Intermountain Healthcare
Headquartered in Utah with locations in eight states and additional operations across the western U.S., Intermountain Healthcare is a nonprofit system of 33 hospitals, 385 clinics, medical groups with some 3,900 employed physicians and advanced care providers, a health plans division called SelectHealth with more than one million members, and other health services. Helping people live the healthiest lives possible, Intermountain is committed to improving community health and is widely recognized as a leader in transforming healthcare by using evidence-based best practices to consistently deliver high-quality outcomes at sustainable costs. For more information and updates, click here