Cases of influenza have started early this year and experts worry we could be in for a particularly bad flu season. That’s why physicians are encouraging everyone who is able to receive a flu vaccine, especially pregnant women who are more likely than the general population to become seriously ill from influenza.
According to Richard Beigi, M.D., M.Sc., an infectious disease specialist and obstetrician at MageeWomens Hospital of UPMC, pregnant women are more likely to require hospitalization or even die from the flu.
The flu can be harmful to pregnant women because pregnancy lowers a woman’s immune system. The immune system is the body’s way of protecting itself from illnesses and disease, and it works hard to fight viruses and infections. In order for a woman’s body to recognize and welcome her pregnancy, the immune system is temporarily lowered, making it slower to respond to some illnesses like flu.
“In addition to heightened risks for the mother, influenza has also been linked to premature delivery and poor growth in utero for the child,” said Dr. Beigi. “Increasing amounts of research show that if pregnant women get the flu shot, they are less likely to deliver prematurely and less likely to have a baby with growth issues. Many studies now demonstrate that if the mom gets a flu shot, her newborn baby can be protected for the first six months of life as well. This is incredibly important because newborns can also get very sick from the flu but they can’t receive the vaccine themselves until they are six months old.”
For anyone concerned about the flu vaccine’s safety, more than 20 research studies have demonstrated very clearly that it is very safe to give to pregnant women. According to Dr. Beigi, it’s also one of the most cost-effective interventions in modern medicine.
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