The first thing that needs to be said is, it’s not too late to get vaccinated against flu! In the U.S., flu season typically peaks around February, sometimes as late as April or May.
College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the American
Academy of Family Physicians, the American
Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC’s Advisory Committee
on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommend that all pregnant and postpartum
women receive a flu vaccine. So, if you’re already pregnant, it’s still
not too late to get a flu shot.
You can use the Flu Vaccine
Finder to find a provider near you.
Some of the changes that occur during pregnancy place women
at higher risk of complications from influenza, especially during the second
and third trimesters. A pregnant woman’s body needs more oxygen but she is less
able to take a deep breath. There are changes in a woman’s immune system that
protect the baby but decrease her ability to fight infection. A woman’s heart
also works harder during pregnancy. Pregnant women are four to five times more
likely than the general population to become seriously ill and require
hospitalization due to influenza.
What is influenza?
In talking to people about flu, it seems that there is some
confusion about what flu is. I’ll start by talking about what flu is not:
Influenza is not “stomach flu.” Even though some people may
be nauseated and throw up when they have the flu, influenza is a respiratory
disease, not a gastrointestinal disease. What people call “stomach flu”
(nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea) is usually viral gastroenteritis.
Influenza is not a “bad cold.” There are lots of viruses
that cause the common
cold. Both influenza and the common cold can cause coughing and runny nose,
but the symptoms of flu are usually much more severe. Like the cold, influenza
is a respiratory disease, but the systemic symptoms of flu (fever, chills,
muscle aches, and headache) are worse than the respiratory symptoms.
To add to the confusion, there are many “influenza-like
illnesses” (ILI) that are not influenza. Parainfluenza viruses, respiratory
syncytial virus, and adenoviruses can cause illness that is indistinguishable
People shed influenza viruses and can infect others for up
to a day before the onset of symptoms and continue to shed influenza viruses
for up to ten days after symptoms start. Children and people with immune
deficiencies can shed influenza viruses much longer than that. A person
infected with influenza can transmit flu to other people before knowing that
she or he has the flu and can continue to infect other after beginning to feel
So, influenza is a viral respiratory disease that causes
fever, chills, muscle aches (myalgia), headache, and cough.
Influenza also knocks people off of their feet. Flu usually
keeps people in bed and away from work or school for three days and can take a
week or more for otherwise healthy people to recover.
Influenza also kills people. A graph of influenza deaths by
age shows a U-shaped pattern, with relatively few deaths in the middle, and
higher number of deaths in young children and older adults. People with chronic
medical conditions are also more likely than healthy adults to develop
complications from influenza or die. The most common complication associated
with influenza is pneumonia.
Next I’ll talk about influenza vaccines.
American College of
Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2010). Influenza vaccination during
pregnancy. Committee Opinion No. 468. Obstetrics
& Gynecology, 116(4), 1006-1007. http://www.acog.org/Resources_And_Publications/Committee_Opinions/Committee_on_Obstetric_Practice/Influenza_Vaccination_During_Pregnancy.aspx.
Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention. (2010). Prevention and control of influenza with vaccines:
recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 59(8).
Lee, F. E. & Treanor, J. (2010).
Viral infections. In Murray and Nadel’s
textbook of respiratory medicine. (5th Ed. pp.). [Electronic version].
MacDonald, N. E., Riley, L. E.,
& Steinhff, M. C. (2009). Influenza immunization in pregnancy. Obstetrics
& Gynecology, 114(2, Part 1), 365-368. doi:10.1097/AOG.0b013e3181af6ce8.
Tamma, P. D., Ault, K. A., del
Rio, C., Steinhoff, M. C., Halsey, N. A. & Omer, S. B. (2009). Safety of
influenza vaccination during pregnancy. American Journal of Obstetrics and
Gynecology, 201(6), 547-552. http://www.ajog.org/article/S0002-9378(09)01108-9/fulltext.
Treanor, J. J. (2009). Influenza
viruses, including avian influenza and swine flu. In Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett’s principles and practice of infectious
diseases. (7th Ed.). [Electronic version].