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Pregnant Women & Influenza (Flu)


Flu is more likely to cause severe illness in pregnant women than in women of reproductive age who are not pregnant. Changes in the immune system, heart, and lungs during pregnancy make pregnant women (and women up to two weeks postpartum) more prone to severe illness from flu, including illness resulting in hospitalization. Flu also may be harmful for a pregnant woman’s developing baby. A common flu symptom is fever, which may be associated with neural tube defects and other adverse outcomes for a developing baby. Getting vaccinated can also help protect a baby after birth from flu. (Mom passes antibodies onto the developing baby during her pregnancy.)

A Flu Vaccine is the Best Protection Against Flu

Getting a flu vaccine is the first and most important step in protecting against flu. Pregnant women should get a flu shot and not the live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV), also known as nasal spray flu vaccine. Flu vaccines given during pregnancy help protect both the mother and her baby from flu. Vaccination has been shown to reduce the risk of flu-associated acute respiratory infection in pregnant women by up to one-half. Pregnant women who get a flu vaccine are also helping to protect their babies from flu illness for the first several months after their birth, when they are too young to get vaccinated. A list of recent studies on the benefits of flu vaccination for pregnant women can be found here.

A Long Record of Safety for Flu Shots in Pregnant Women

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; though these data are limited for the first trimester. CDC and ACIP recommend that pregnant women get vaccinated during any trimester of their pregnancy. It is very important for pregnant women to get the flu shot. See Seasonal Flu Vaccine Safety and Pregnant Women for more information.

Other Preventive Actions

In addition to getting a flu shot, pregnant women should take the same everyday preventive actions CDC recommends of everyone, including covering coughs, washing hands often, and avoiding people who are sick.

Symptoms and Treatment

If you get sick with flu symptoms call your doctor right away. There are antiviral drugs that can treat flu illness and prevent serious flu complications. CDC recommends prompt treatment for people who have influenza infection or suspected influenza infection and who are at high risk of serious flu complications, such as people with asthma, diabetes (including gestational diabetes), or heart disease. Early treatment of influenza in hospitalized pregnant women has been shown to reduce the length of the hospital stay.

Symptoms

Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people may also have vomiting and diarrhea. People may be infected with the flu and have respiratory symptoms without a fever.

Early Treatment is Important for Pregnant Women

  • Treatment should begin as soon as possible because antiviral drugs work best when started early (within 48 hours after symptoms start).
  • Antiviral drugs can make your flu illness milder and make you feel better faster. They may also prevent serious health problems that can result from flu illness.
  • Oral oseltamivir is the preferred treatment for pregnant women because it has the most studies available to suggest that it is safe and beneficial.
  • Antiviral drugs require a prescription from your doctor.
  • Having a fever caused by flu infection or other infections early in pregnancy may be linked to birth defects in a baby. In addition to taking antiviral drugs, pregnant women who get a fever should treat their fever with Tylenol® (or store brand equivalent) and contact their doctor immediately.

When to Seek Emergency Medical Care

If you are pregnant and have any of these signs, call 911 right away:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • High fever that is not responding to Tylenol® (or store brand equivalent)
  • Decreased or no movement of your baby

Note: There is no recommendation for pregnant women or people with pre-existing medical conditions to get special permission or written consent from their doctor or health care professional for influenza vaccination if they get vaccinated at a worksite clinic, pharmacy or other location outside of their physician’s office. For more information, visit Misconceptions about Seasonal Flu and Flu Vaccines.

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