Flu shots offer more benefits than risks for pregnant women

October 10, 2012 4:53:13 PM PDT
Two new strains of the flu will be circulating this year and some predict it will be a bad flu season. Experts say it hasn't hit Houston yet, but you'll still want to get your flu shot, especially if you are pregnant. And the vaccine has some hidden benefits.

Pregnant women used to be fearful about getting vaccines like the flu shot, but those days are over.

"If you get the flu as a pregnant woman, you risk the chance of death," said Dr. Carol Baker with the Texas Children's Hospital.

And they're talking about healthy pregnant women.

"We've had two or three of our doctors here at Texas Children's, their wives almost die," Dr. Baker said.

The problem is in pregnancy a woman's lungs are compressed by the baby.

"You don't have enough lung volume, and therefore if you get a respiratory virus infection that goes into the lungs, like influenza, it's very serious because you can't clear it as well," Dr. Baker said.

Dr. Baker says 6 percent of the swine flu deaths were in pregnant women. But the flu vaccine changes that.

Dr. Baker says avoiding death is the first of three hidden benefits of the flu vaccine for pregnant women. The second is that women are less likely to go into premature labor. The fever from the flu starts a cascade of problems that can lead to early labor.

"If you have preterm labor you're going to have a small baby," Dr. Baker said.

And small babies are at risk for serious newborn complications. The third benefit: The mother passes her immunity to her baby and that protects the baby for about 6 months, until he or she is old enough to be immunized.

"Pregnant women don't understand how vulnerable they are and their babies are vulnerable too, so one injection with the influenza vaccine is going to protect two human beings," Dr. Baker said.

If you're planning to get the flu shot, do it now. It takes two weeks for it to become effective. And this year, the vaccine is available all over Houston.


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