My pregnant patients have been asking, “If I get the flu will it hurt the baby?”
My first answer to them is this: Do whatever you can to make sure you do not get the flu — wash your hands frequently, don’t allow yourself knowingly to be exposed to someone who may be ill, wear a face mask if your job requires you to be in contact with sick people, and if someone at home has flu-like symptoms, try to minimize your contact with them.
This flu or any flu-like disease can be particularly dangerous for women who are pregnant. They tend to get sicker when they are sick, and may be more susceptible to bacterial infections including pneumonia. During previous flu outbreaks higher rates of miscarriage and pre-term births have been noted, especially when the mother develops pneumonia.
This particular flu has resulted in quite a lot of hype in the news media, probably due to its similarity to a flu in 1918 that killed millions around the world. However, this is not the same strain and this time we have drugs that were not available at that time.
Having said that however, there IS flu around and any virus that causes a high fever can be a problem for the pregnant mom. A high fever in the first trimester (up to 13 weeks) can cause neural tube defects. If there is a fever, it is safe to take Tylenol during pregnancy. Additionally, be sure that the prenatal vitamins have folic acid in them because that may possibly provide some additional protection against neural tube defects.
So, if you are pregnant and suspect you have the flu you should ask your obstetrician to screen you for it. When you go to the doctor’s office, ask for a face mask to protect other patients as well as yourself. Your doctor will probably treat you for the flu even if test results are not yet back.
Tamiflu and Relenza are both drugs that can reduce the severity of the flu, and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends their use in pregnant women. They are considered Category C drugs, meaning that no clinical studies have been done to assess their safety, but they should be used when the potential benefit of the drug outweighs the risk. Most drugs used during pregnancy have this warning and the CDC feels there are no problems for pregnant women in taking these drugs.
So although these appear to be frightening times for a pregnant women, this flu appears at this time to be quite mild and there should be no reason to panic.
Dr. Mona Alqulali is a board certified OB-GYN.