Flu Danger for Pregnant Colorado Women

A spike in hospitalizations for pregnant women this season highlights their special vulnerability to H1N1, with Colorado women’s reluctance to vaccinate playing a role.

Denver (January 22, 2014) – Last season 4.6 percent of those hospitalized for the flu across the nation were pregnant women, while this season pregnant women make up 22 percent of patients, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pregnant women are more prone to have severe cases of the H1N1 flu, causing concern among Colorado physicians, who warn them to get their flu shot.

“Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to this flu, which is alarming because many Colorado women are choosing not to take the flu vaccine,” says Dr. Jaime Arruda, an OB-GYN with CU’s OB-GYN Department and an assistant professor in the School of Medicine. “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 alone 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 13, 2014, 113 flu patients were hospitalized at UCH and 67 percent of those hospitalized were women.

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 and almost every immunocompromised person.

Colorado has historically had a large population of non-vaccinating people. 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. Research by the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment shows that 45 percent of un-vaccinated pregnant Colorado women said they declined to vaccinate because they thought it would hurt their baby.

So an already low state vaccination rate becomes even lower for pregnant Colorado women. Arruda says this is distressing, because the flu vaccine is one of the best ways to save lives.

Pregnant women hospitalized with the flu run a high risk of needing a ventilator to help them breathe. That’s because their lung function is decreased, as the child and womb restrict the 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 and 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.

“I’ve seen one pregnant woman at death’s door this flu season and it’s heart wrenching,” says Arruda. “I don’t want to see another one. Pregnant women should get their flu shot.”

About University of Colorado OB-GYN & Family Planning

University of Colorado OB-GYN & Family Planning is one of the most diversified OB-GYN practices in the Denver area. Notable services at our women’s health clinics include university hospital care with a private practice model, women’s health research & studies, contraception, pregnancy care, infertility treatment, VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean), & menopause treatment.