Pregnancy and the Flu

November 30, 2018

woman sneezing while pregnantThe Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that between five to 20 percent of the
American population contracts the flu each year. More than 200,000 people are
hospitalized annually due to the flu and related complications, and it results in over 17
million sick days per year. At least 3,000 people die from the flu each year.

Pregnant women and women who are up to two weeks postpartum are at a higher risk
for developing the flu than the general population. It is recommended that pregnant
women receive the flu vaccine to decrease the risk of developing the flu during
pregnancy. The flu vaccine can be given in any trimester of pregnancy. The nasal spray
vaccine is not suitable for those who are pregnant as this is a live attenuated influenza

What are some benefits of flu vaccination during pregnancy?

1. Protection from serious complications and hospitalization
According to figures released by the CDC, the flu vaccine is between 40 to 60 percent
effective for flu prevention. Those who have been vaccinated may still get the flu, but
their symptoms will likely be less severe and the duration of their illness may be shorter
than those who do not receive the vaccine.

Flu symptoms usually appear quite suddenly and typically include body aches, chills, a
high fever, coughing (which may be severe), headaches, and fatigue. Dehydration, ear
and sinus infections, pneumonia, and heart problems are all possible complications of
the flu that may require urgent treatment at the hospital. In fact, many hospitalizations
for the flu occur in patients ages 18 to 64.

Pregnancy places additional demands on the heart, lungs, and immune system that
make women less able to fight off infections and viruses. Pregnant women who do get
the flu are much more likely to experience more severe symptoms and complications
than those who are not pregnant. In particular, the high fevers that can occur with the flu
may be dangerous for an unborn baby and potentially increase the risk of neural tube

2. Reduction in the risk of acute respiratory infection

The flu normally causes a number of respiratory symptoms that may include severe
coughing, runny nose, congestion, and sneezing. Pregnant women are at a particularly
high risk of contracting acute respiratory infections from the flu. In some cases, these

can lead to the development of respiratory distress, which is a medical emergency. The
flu vaccine reduces a pregnant woman's chance of getting acute respiratory infections.

3. Protection for your unborn child

The body makes antibodies in response to vaccination. During pregnancy, antibodies
are passed between mother and baby. Receiving the flu vaccine while pregnant enables
you to pass on these flu-fighting antibodies to your unborn child. The protective
antibodies will stay with your child throughout your pregnancy and for the first six
months after birth providing protection for the baby in a time in which they are too young
to be vaccinated themselves.
Our medical team at Greater Washington Maternal and Fetal Medicine can answer any
questions you may have about flu vaccination during pregnancy.