Is It Safe For Mom And Baby?

During pregnancy, more than almost any time, you want to go out of your way to avoid getting sick. But is the flu shot safe for a pregnant woman? Obstetrician/Gynecologist David Barrere discusses the current recommendations.
David Barrere, MD

Your question
Should I get a flu shot during pregnancy? - Corinna in Rhode Island

The expert answers
The influenza (flu) vaccine is strongly recommended for any person six months or older who is at increased risk for complications resulting from an influenza infection. In addition, health care workers and others in close contact with persons in high risk groups should be vaccinated to decrease the risk of transmitting the infection to those at high risk.

Groups at increased risk for influenza-related complications:

  1. Persons 65 years of age or older.
  2. Residents of nursing homes and other extended care facilities that house persons of any age with chronic medical conditions.
  3. Adults and pediatric patients with chronic disorders of the pulmonary or cardiovascular systems, including asthma.
  4. Adults and pediatric patients who have required regular medical follow-up or hospitalization during the preceding year because of chronic metabolic diseases (including diabetes mellitus), renal dysfunction, hemoglobinopathies, or immunosuppression (including immunosuppression caused by medications).
  5. Pediatric patients and young adults (six months to 18 years of age) who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy and, therefore, may be at risk for developing Reye syndrome after influenza.

The National Immunization Program (NIP) of the Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, makes this additional recommendation:

    Women who will be at least three months pregnant during the flu season should receive the vaccine. While the best time to get a flu shot is October or November, a flu shot in December or later will still protect you against the flu.

Some caregivers debate this recommendation, however. The Physician's Desk Reference (PDR) states the following about the influenza vaccine:

Pregnancy Category C
Animal reproduction studies have not been conducted with the influenza vaccine. It is also not known whether the influenza vaccine can cause fetal harm when administered to a pregnant woman or can affect reproduction capacity. The influenza vaccine should be given to a pregnant woman only if clearly needed.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Influenza, commonly called "the flu," is caused by the influenza virus, which infects the respiratory tract. The virus generally spreads from person-to-person when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Compared with other respiratory infections like the common cold, the flu can cause severe illness and lead to serious, and life-threatening complications in all age groups.

Typical flu symptoms include fever, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headache, muscle aches and extreme fatigue. Children may experience gastrointestinal problems like nausea, vomiting and diarrhea but such symptoms are not common in adults. Although the term "stomach flu" is sometimes used to describe gastrointestinal illnesses, this is caused by other organisms and is not related to "true" flu.

Most OB/GYNs recommend the vaccine only to those women beyond the first trimester who are at significant risk for influenza. Most pregnant mothers are not at an increased risk, and therefore, few are recommended to receive the vaccine.

If you do decide to get the flu shot, the CDC notes that shots can be taken at any time during flu season. It takes one to two weeks after receiving the shot for a person to develop protective antibody. Studies of healthy young adults have shown flu vaccine to be 70 percent to 90 percent effective in preventing

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