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Flu and pregnancy FAQs

WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Why are pregnant women at higher risk from flu?

During pregnancy a woman’s immune system becomes suppressed making her more susceptible to infections such as flu and its complications.

In addition, another contributing factor may be that as the foetus develops and grows there’s more pressure on the mother’s breathing and lung function, increasing the risk of her developing secondary infections such as pneumonia.

Are pregnant women allowed to have a flu jab?

Because pregnant women are in a high-risk category, all pregnant women are advised to have a flu jab.

The NHS says the vaccine will not harm unborn babies.

How else can someone who is pregnant prevent flu?

As well as following the general flu prevention advice about hand washing and hygiene measures, pregnant women are advised to avoid unnecessary travel and crowds. If a member of your family, or someone you are close to has flu, a doctor may prescribe an antiviral drug, either Tamiflu ( oseltamivir) or Relenza ( zanamivir).

If a pregnant woman gets flu, what is the best course of action?

If you think you have flu and are pregnant, seek medical advice.

Could antiviral medications cause harm to her unborn baby?

The European Medicines Agency believes antiviral treatments pose a smaller risk than the symptoms of flu.

Some adverse effects have been reported in pregnant animals given Tamiflu, but no relation between the use of the drug and adverse events in pregnant women has been established.

Relenza is usually prescribed during pregnancy as it is inhaled, reaching the throat and lungs more easily. This also means there is less of the drug in the bloodstream or the placenta. The NHS says Relenza should not affect pregnancy or unborn babies.

Tamiflu may be prescribed if the flu is severe or if a different medication is required.

Can a pregnant woman pass flu to her unborn baby?

During severe infections with pandemic strains of influenza, doctors say it is possible that the virus could infect the placenta, which carries blood to the foetus.

Women with flu do seem to be at a higher risk of premature delivery. In past pandemics, pregnant women with flu had higher rates of stillbirth, spontaneous abortion and premature birth.

Also, flu comes with fever. Studies have shown that a fever during the first trimester doubles the risk of neural tube defects and may be associated with other adverse outcomes. The risk of birth defects associated with fever may be mitigated by the use of anti-fever medications and/or a multivitamin that contains folic acid, but data is limited.

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