Extreme Flu Danger for Pregnant Women: Get Your Flu Shot

Extreme Flu Danger for Pregnant Women: Get Your Flu Shot


Pregnant flu shot | CU OB/GYN | Photo of pregnant womanThe flu, specifically the H1N1 virus, is ravaging Colorado and many other states. Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to this flu, which is alarming because many Colorado women are choosing not to take the flu vaccine.

This is not a good idea. The flu can cause severe illness among pregnant women, resulting in preterm labor, hospitalization and death.

University of Colorado Hospital has treated many pregnant women for very serious flu complications this season, with some admitted to the hospital and even treated in the ICU. From November 1, 2013, to January 8, 2014, 103 flu patients were hospitalized at UCH; three patients died. And 67 percent of those hospitalized were women.

This season, the CDC reports that 22 percent of patients hospitalized for the flu are pregnant women. Normally that number is 4.6 percent.

Statistics gathered by Dr. Julie Scott of CU OB/GYN show that significantly fewer Colorado women received a flu vaccine shot this year than last year.

Colorado has historically had a large population of non-vaccinating people. There are many feelings about vaccinations, but it’s safe to say that most medical providers would agree that it is a bad thing not to vaccinate.

Vaccinations typically work best when most members of the population receive the vaccine. This is known as “herd immunity.” When a large percentage of the “herd” is not vaccinated against a disease, it is the weakest in the herd that get the disease—newborns, pregnant women, almost every immunocompromised person, such as a chemotherapy patient or someone with HIV.

That’s a bad enough scenario. What’s worse is that many pregnant women specifically avoid a vaccine because they think it can harm their baby. Some patients also fear that the vaccine might make them sick. There’s a fear associated with the flu vaccine. So an already low vaccination rate becomes even lower for pregnant women. It’s ironic—and distressing—because receiving the flu vaccine is one of the best ways we can save lives.

It’s not too late

There are still a couple of months left in this flu season, so don’t think the danger has passed. Get the flu shot now.

If you’re pregnant and get the flu, you run a higher risk of being hospitalized than if you’re not pregnant. Your risk of being intubated and having to use a ventilator to breathe is extremely high. You face a greater chance of acute respiratory distress syndrome.

That’s because the lung function of a pregnant woman is decreased. She has a reduced air capacity because her child and womb restrict her diaphragm. A non-pregnant person with the flu will more easily breathe faster or take bigger breaths to oxygenate.

A pregnant woman can’t do that. She fatigues faster, can experience septic shock faster, which can cause multiple organ dysfunction. She will succumb to respiratory illness quicker.

When a pregnant woman gets the flu, her baby doesn’t. But if the mother’s flu results in her not getting enough oxygen, her unborn child may experience brain development problems. If mom dies—and death from the flu is not unusual for pregnant women—her baby may die also.

If you’re pregnant, get your flu shot. Don’t get sick from the flu and put your baby at risk. If you’re going to be around someone who is pregnant or a newborn, get your flu shot—that’s aunts, friends, siblings, grandparents and childcare providers.

I’ve seen one pregnant woman at death’s door this flu season and it’s heart wrenching. I don’t want to see another one.

Please get your flu shot. Call your doctor’s office, go to a public health clinic. You can even get the shot at many supermarkets and drug stores.