Expecting? Get the Flu Vaccine
Flu season is here
It’s hard to believe, but the flu season is already officially here. Our Methodist Physicians Clinic providers are already seeing cases of the cold and flu. That’s why I tell my patients – if you are or will be pregnant this flu season, the time to get your vaccine is now.
Pregnancy raises risk
The flu can be a very serious illness, especially when you are expecting. I often tell my patients that as pregnant women, they have the immunity of a little old lady and can’t fight illness as well. Therefore, they are at just as much risk as the elderly to develop complications from the flu.
Pregnancy causes changes to the immune system, lungs and heart, which can put you at risk for serious complications:
Immunity: When you are pregnant, your body naturally lowers the immune system’s ability to protect you and respond to illnesses so it can welcome your growing baby. Unfortunately, this also means it’s easier for you to get sick.
Lungs: During pregnancy, your lungs need more oxygen – especially in your second and third trimester. Your growing belly puts pressure on your lungs, making them work harder in a smaller space. If your lung capacity is also diminished by illness, it can make you seriously ill.
Heart: Your heart works overtime during pregnancy pumping blood to both you and your baby. That means your body is under extra stress. This stress can make it more likely for you to get the flu. (This risk remains for two weeks following delivery.)
The most serious complications
If you’re pregnant and get the flu, the most serious complications can include severe respiratory distress. It can lead to intubation and the need for mechanical ventilation. There is also a higher risk for preterm labor and even death.
I tell my patients, as a pregnant woman, if you get sick your baby is at risk. Pregnant women with the flu also put their babies at greater risk for problems, including premature labor and delivery.
Getting vaccinated is so important
The influenza virus is a tricky organism. It changes frequently, so scientists and physicians have to come up with a new vaccine each year. Because they have to “predict” which mutations might occur, the vaccine’s effectiveness also changes each year. Some years it will work better than others.
Even if a vaccine does not completely cover a virus, it may give you some protection and it will likely decrease the severity of the illness you could have had as well as decrease severe complications, which is very important when you are pregnant.
Protecting you and your baby
It’s important to note that the flu vaccine given in pregnancy is not a live virus, it’s inactivated. When your body is exposed to the dead virus, your body develops an immune response so that the next time it sees the virus (the live one), it can fight it better. It's been given to millions of women and is not known to cause pregnancy problems or birth defects.
Those who get the vaccine also likely provide some immunity to their newborns. Children of vaccinated mothers have lower incidence of illness – which is great because we can't forget that babies less than six months cannot receive the vaccine. YOU are their key to not getting sick. So protect your friends, family, colleagues and strangers by getting vaccinated.
Protection from influenza is not only important for you, but your family and those around you. Talk to your Methodist Physicians Clinic health care provider about getting your best shot at avoiding the flu.