Swine Flu and Pregnancy
For more than 10 years now, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has recommended that pregnant women be vaccinated prior to the flu season. This is due to the fact that the flu is considered a serious health risk for even robust, young pregnant women. Pregnant women are more vulnerable to the effects of the flu than are other populations, and are even more so during the final, third trimester of pregnancy. According to Emory University obstetrician Dr. Kevin Ault, this is due to changes in the immune system and in the lungs that makes it more difficult for pregnant women to fight off respiratory infections.
Now, data emanating from the CDC suggests that swine flu is as dangerous as any other flu, if not more so. In the US alone, 302 deaths have been attributed to swine flu as of July 2009. The CDC has detailed records for 266 of those who died. Out of this 266, 15 victims were found to be pregnant women. That comes to around 6%.
In fact, the first American mortality from swine flu was a pregnant woman, Judy Trunnell, aged 33, who died May 5. Trunnel fell into a coma and delivered by Cesarean section a healthy infant daughter.
While some of the 15 victims were found to have coexisting health issues (Trunnel, for instance, suffered from asthma), most of them were found to be healthy overall. To Dr. Denise Jamieson, an epidemiologist from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this suggests that pregnancy itself is a significant risk factor for succumbing to death from swine flu. "I think the whole concept that this flu only affects pregnant women with underlying medical conditions is incorrect," said Jamieson.
Experts also believe that a good, effective vaccine will be beneficial to both pregnant women and their unborn children. Infants are considered to have weak immune systems, and so it is risky for them to be vaccinated up until at least the age of 6 months. It is hoped that their mothers will have been vaccinated while pregnant and that the resulting immunity of the mother-to-be will be passed on to her infant, to protect him during his first half year of life.
A study on Bangladeshi women, published in last year's New England Journal of Medicine found that pregnant women who received flu shots appeared to grant their unborn children such immunity. The study found that children whose moms had been vaccinated while pregnant had a 63% reduced risk for contracting the flu.