Flu is the leading cause of death from a vaccine-preventable disease in the US, responsible for 36,000 deaths and 200,000 hospitalizations. The greatest burden of disease is among expectant mothers, kids, elderly citizens, and people with certain medical conditions. The highest incidence of influenza-related hospitalization among children is for infants below the age of 1 year, especially those aged less than 6 months.
The WHO and CDC Recommend the Flu Shot
Consequently, the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends influenza vaccination for all pregnant women regardless of the trimester, as well as for children, except for infants aged less than 6 months and individuals with a severe allergy to egg protein. Since the flu vaccine is inactivated, it does not pose any safety concerns to pregnant women.
In addition, the vaccine has been found to be very successful in preventing flu and related complications in expectant women and the baby, for a short time (6 months) after birth. According to a study published in the Journal of General Virology, an infant’s concentration of flu antibodies at birth correlates with that of the mother. Higher concentrations of flu antibodies in the infant resulted in the delayed onset and lower severity of influenza infection.
Risks of Complications from Flu
Influenza is known to cause more severe complications in expectant mothers than in non-expectant women. Changes in their immune system, lungs, and heart during pregnancy make expectant mothers (as well as women up to two weeks post-partum) more susceptible to serious illness from influenza, resulting in hospitalization and even death. Flu-related complication can also cause serious problems before birth, like birth defects and premature labor and delivery.
Administering the influenza vaccine to expectant mothers during their second and third trimesters has been shown to increase seroprotection against all strains of flu for most women, and more than half of their newborns. However, the protective levels against the flu completely disappears within 6 months in the newborn; hence, the requirement by the CDC that all persons above the age of 6 months get an annual influenza vaccination.
Points to note about the flu shot:
- The influenza shot is one of the most critical things for a pregnant woman during her prenatal care, irrespective of the trimester.
- The inactivated flu shot, with or without the preservative thimerosal, is safe for pregnant mothers, and the protection extends to the newborn for a period of up to 6 months, protecting the baby against acute respiratory infections and bipolar disorder.
- The flu shot is claimed to reduce the risk of stillbirths/miscarriages, as well as other birth complications like an underweight baby or preterm birth.
Early treatment for influenza is critical for pregnant women. So, if you notice flu-like symptoms, contact your doctor immediately for the safety of your child.