The leaves are falling at a rapid pace and the weather has given us several cold snaps. That means cold and flu season is right around the corner. Last year, we saw a late and mild flu season in Minnesota. While we could hope for a similarly mild year, don't bet on it. That's why the March of Dimes recommends that pregnant women, and women who expect to become pregnant, get an annual flu shot.
No one likes being down and out with the flu, but it can be more dangerous for pregnant women. Health complications resulting from influenza infection, such as pneumonia, can be serious and even deadly. The normal changes to a pregnant woman's immune system, heart and lungs put moms-to-be at increased risk of the harmful effects of flu infection. Flu shots are a safe way to protect the mother and her unborn child (and even the baby after birth) from serious illness and complications of flu.
Recent studies, which looked at thousands of pregnant women who received the seasonal flu vaccine, found that their babies did not have a higher risk of being born too soon or developing a birth defect when compared with babies born to women who did not get a vaccine. Also, researchers found that women who were vaccinated were less likely to suffer a stillbirth. One study was published in July in the Journal of the American Medical Association and the other in the September issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Unimmunized pregnant women who develop influenza infection symptoms such as fever, muscle aches, and cough should contact their health providers as soon as possible to begin the treatment.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone older than six months get the flu vaccine each year. It's very important for children younger than 5 to get the vaccine because they're more likely than older kids to have health problems caused by the flu. Some children younger than age 9 need two doses of the flu vaccine. Ask your child's provider if one dose is enough.
Several cases of H3N2v (swine flu) have also been reported in Minnesota this year. Pregnant women and children under five should avoid situations where they could be exposed to swine. For the latest on health advisories, check with the Minnesota Department of Health.