Flu Fighter: Laura E. Riley

Meet flu fighter Dr. Laura E. Riley, an obstetrician who has delivered thousands of babies and works directly with mothers to guide them through their pregnancy, providing support to ensure that mothers and their babies are healthy. She says her motivation to fight flu comes from her desire to protect her patients and family. “What I tell my patients is that it’s really important not to get the flu during pregnancy,” says Dr. Riley. She reminds patients that flu can lead to serious complications in pregnant women and that a flu shot is the best available protection for mothers and their babies. Dr. Riley is the Director, Obstetrics and Gynecology Infectious Disease at Massachusetts General Hospital

Dr. Riley also provides guidance and expert insight to protecting pregnant women and their babies through vaccination, serving as Chair of American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ (ACOG) Immunization Expert Work Group and a member of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice (ACIP) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Name: Laura E. Riley, MD

Title: Vice Chair, Obstetrics

Location: Massachusetts General Hospital

  1. In your role, how do you prepare for flu season each year?
    In preparation for flu season each year I make sure my colleagues and I are up to date on the latest recommendations for flu vaccination. I also make sure we are all immunized in order to set a positive example for our patients and their families.
  2. What is the most difficult part of flu prevention?
    The most difficult part of flu prevention is helping hesitant moms-to-be understand that flu vaccination during pregnancy is the best way to protect themselves and their baby from serious illness. Some pregnant women are hesitant to receive preventive care, especially if it is not something they routinely did before they were pregnant. Educating patients and   changing behavior is challenging, but most women ultimately decide to get vaccinated when they learn that the flu vaccine can protect them as well as their babies in utero and in the first few months of life.
  3. Why do you think people underestimate the seriousness of flu illness?
    I think people often underestimate the severity of flu illness because there is a misconception that the flu is merely a bad cold. However, those who have had the flu know that it is a powerful virus that knocks you off your feet for days or even weeks. Many pregnant women are shocked to learn that the flu can cause preterm delivery or death so it can be devastating. That’s why getting a flu shot is so important for particularly for pregnant women.
  4. Why is it important to get the flu shot every year?
    It’s important to get the flu shot every year because the virus strains in the vaccine often change from year to year. For pregnant women, it is important to be vaccinated during flu season with each pregnancy because antibodies developed by the mom are transmitted to the baby and protect them from illness in the first few months of life.
  5. What would you say to those who are hesitant about getting the flu shot? 
    When my patients are hesitant about getting the flu shot I reiterate the safety and benefits for both mom and baby, sharing resources from American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and CDC. I also emphasize that getting vaccinated is something I do, and something I encourage my own daughters to do annually.