If you’re pregnant during the fall and winter of 2009–2010, you should know that experts say that pregnant women are at higher risk for complications associated with the novel H1N1 flu virus (“swine flu”), just as they are at higher risk for developing serious complications associated with the seasonal flu virus regardless of what trimester they are in. These complications include early labor and severe pneumonia or even deaths.
Here’s what you need to know about the H1N1 flu and seasonal flu so you can protect yourself and your family as the 2009–2010 flu season approaches:
Get both the seasonal and H1N1 flu shot: If you’re pregnant, get your flu shots for both the seasonal flu and the H1N1 flu virus. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the best way to protect yourself against influenza is the flu vaccine. It is considered safe for pregnant women during any trimester. The CDC has identified pregnant women as a high-risk group for developing complications associated with the flu, so getting both a seasonal flu vaccine and an H1N1 flu vaccine are important steps to take to protect your health and your baby’s health. Stay alert for news about availability of a vaccine for the H1N1 flu virus in your area. The CDC recommends that pregnant women and children be vaccinated against both H1N1 and the seasonal flu. The seasonal flu vaccine is now available for the 2009–2010 flu season.
Recognize the symptoms of the flu: Realize that symptoms of H1N1 are similar, but not identical, to those of seasonal flu. Symptoms of H1N1 are fever, runny nose, cough, sore throat, muscle aches, headaches, shortness of breath, chills and fatigue. H1N1 differs from seasonal flu in that a significant number of sufferers also experience diarrhea and vomiting.
Get care immediately when you’re sick: Call your health care provider immediately if you have flu symptoms; he or she will determine if you need to be seen. Don’t guess about what’s causing your symptoms. Ask your health care professional for guidance. Report any of the following symptoms right away: difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, pain or pressure in your chest or abdomen, sudden dizziness, confusion, severe or persistent vomiting, decreased or no movement of your baby or a high fever that doesn’t respond to medication recommended by your health care professional.
Ask if treatment is an option: Ask about treatment options for flu. If your health care provider decides you need treatment for a suspected H1N1 infection, he or she will most likely prescribe the antiviral drug oseltamivir (Tamiflu), within 48 hours of when your symptoms first appear. According to the CDC, treatment with oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza) is recommended for pregnant women with suspected or confirmed influenza. Both can be taken during any trimester of pregnancy.
Breastfeed your baby: If you’ve already birthed your baby and contract the flu, continue to breastfeed, even if you think you have H1N1 flu or seasonal flu. Breast milk contains antibodies that help fight off infections like the flu. Even before a woman realizes she has flu symptoms her body has begun to make antibodies against the flu that are passed on to her baby through her breast milk and will protect her baby from getting sick with the flu. Therefore, you should keep breastfeeding your baby, even when you’re sick with the flu. But, it’s important to take every precaution to help keep your baby healthy. For example, consider expressing your breast milk with a breast pump and asking someone who isn’t sick to feed the baby with a bottle if you have these flu symptoms: runny nose, sore throat, cough or fever. To further prevent your baby from getting the virus, try not to sneeze or cough in his or her face and wash your hands often with soap and water.
Skip the surgical mask: Don’t rely on surgical masks to prevent flu. The CDC isn’t sure how effective face masks are at preventing the transmission of the H1N1 or seasonal flu. Therefore, the CDC doesn’t recommend face masks unless you are caring for someone with a flu-like illness or can’t avoid being in a crowded setting where you know H1N1 is present.
Avoid infected people: Don’t accept invitations to “swine flu parties.” Because there’s no way to predict the severity of a swine flu infection—now or in the future—the CDC discourages swine flu parties. So, don’t be tempted to drop in on a gathering organized by someone who has swine flu or invites someone with swine flu—in hopes of catching the virus to gain immunity against future infection.
Plan ahead: If you will have an infant or young child during the upcoming flu season, now is the time to think about what you will do if your child’s school or day care closes for an extended period due to a swine flu outbreak. It also can’t hurt to stock up on hand sanitizer, tissues, disinfectants, soaps and anything else you may need if you become sick, including food. Being prepared helps you avoid a shopping trip and possibly spreading the virus.
Don’t panic about swine flu, but don’t ignore it either: The H1N1 virus is a threat to your health, just as seasonal flu is this time of year, and it is a particular concern for pregnant women who may be at risk for more serious complications from the virus. To help reduce your chances of H1N1 infection, the CDC recommends these steps:
- Cover your nose and mouth whenever you cough or sneeze and use a tissue or your sleeve instead of your hands. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it
- Wash your hands well and often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
- Refrain from touching your eyes, nose and mouth
- Avoid close contact with people who could be sick with H1N1
- Ask your health care professional about any other specific steps you should take while pregnant or caring for young children
- If you’re pregnant and have flu symptoms, contact your health care professional right away
This article was created in partnership with the National Women’s Health Resource Center and the Flu-Free & A Mom-to-Be campaign.