Though the 2009-2010 flu season has come and gone, worries about the upcoming flu season and its potential effect on pregnant women have not abated. With the support of educational campaigns through the Center for Disease Control, the general population was made aware of the potentially fatal H1N1 virus and identifying increased risk of serious complications. The disease had a particularly devastating effect on pregnant women. As of April 2010, 28 out of 700 reported cases in pregnant women resulted in a fatality, meaning one death out of every 25 women with H1N1. Because of this alarming mortality rate and to prevent further adverse outcomes, the medical world strove to increase the reach of patient education and awareness campaigns.
In October 2009, the Preeclampsia Foundation prepared a study to measure the effectiveness of these educational campaigns, as well as the proportion of pregnant patients who were receiving the H1N1 vaccine. Because of limited supplies, the CDC recommended the following limitations on those receiving the H1N1 vaccine: "These target groups included pregnant women, people who live with or care for children younger than six months of age, health care and emergency medical services personnel, anyone six months through 24 years of age, and people ages of 25 through 64 years of age at higher risk for 2009 H1N1 influenza because of certain chronic health conditions or compromised immune systems." Pregnancy, and possibly preeclampsia, alters the immune system in a way that makes women and their unborn babies much more likely to suffer dangerous complications from H1N1.
The Preeclampsia Foundation asked women about the information they received from their doctors about both the regular flu and the H1N1, as well as whether they received either or both vaccines. Of 190 pregnant women surveyed by the Preeclampsia Foundation, an overwhelming 73% had been counseled by their doctors to receive the H1N1 vaccine. Surprisingly, of those, only 66% said they would likely receive the vaccine, with 15% saying they would "probably" receive it and another 18% saying they would not at all. The Preeclampsia Foundation Medical Board encouraged all pregnant women to strongly consider the non-live version of the H1N1 vaccine, as the risk of the vaccine is far lower than the risk to those who do not receive it. The protection of the vaccine also extends to the baby after birth.
As with preeclampsia, the key for improving health outcomes and decreasing mortality is to recognize the signs and symptoms and receive proper medical treatment immediately.
Our Medical Board has requested that we post this warning to protect you. This applies to all pregnant women, regardless of whether or not you may have or get preeclampsia. You also may have heard the H1N1 virus mistakenly referred to as "swine flu."
1) Strongly consider vaccination.
• The H1N1 vaccine is produced like the seasonal flu vaccine.
• The injected vaccine is not alive - it is considered safe for pregnant women.
• Vaccination is the BEST strategy to avoid H1N1.
• It will also help protect your unborn baby when he/she is born.
2) Do you have a FEVER and COUGH or SORE THROAT?
• You may already have H1N1 - Act NOW!
• Call your doctor NOW.
• Immediate treatment with an antiviral drug such as Tamiflu® (oseltamivir) may be life saving and is recommended by the CDC.
o Treatment must be started early.
o Do not wait for H1N1 confirmation.
o Tamiflu® is thought to be safe in pregnancy.
o Tamiflu® 150 mg twice per day (dose is increased during pregnancy)
3) Have you been exposed to H1N1?
• Call your doctor.
• Consider starting an antiviral drug such as Tamiflu®.
Want more information?
• You can read more about this issue in the article entitled "H1N1 Influenza in Pregnancy: Cause for Concern" in Obstetrics & Gynecology.
• Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website for information to take to your doctor.
• The March of Dimes also has more information, explaining, for instance, why pregnant women are at higher risk.
The Preeclampsia Foundation encourages all of our members to take charge of their health and talk with their physicians about any medical concerns. This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own medical professional or for diagnosing or treating a health issue.