Treating flu during pregnancy
The flu is an infection that can cause fever, cough, body aches and other symptoms. The most common type of flu is the "seasonal" flu. There are different forms of seasonal flu, for example, "type A" and "type B." All forms of the flu are caused by viruses. The medical term for the flu is "influenza." Besides seasonal flu, there is also the "swine" flu, which caused a worldwide outbreak in 2009 and 2010, and the bird flu (also known as "avian flu") caused by a type of flu virus that first infected birds.
Influenza occurs in outbreaks and epidemics worldwide, mainly during the winter season. Most people get over the flu on their own within one to two weeks without any lasting problems.
But pregnant women with flu are at increased risk for serious complications requiring hospitalization and intensive care unit admission, and death. The excess risk may be limited to women infected in the third trimester and the first four weeks after delivery, but available data are poor.
Flu during pregnancy might have adverse effects on the fetus as well. Increased risk of congenital abnormalities as well as increased risk for spontaneous miscarriage, preterm delivery, low birth weight, birth of a small for gestational age infant and fetal death have been reported.
The best way to avoid getting flu is by getting vaccinated.
The 2018-2019 flu vaccine contains:
- an A/Michigan/45/2015 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus,
- an A/Singapore/INFIMH-16-0019/2016 (H3N2)-like virus,
- a B/Colorado/06/2017-like virus (B/Victoria/2/87 lineage).
In addition to protecting the pregnant woman, flu vaccination during pregnancy protects the infant for several months after birth. Thus, inactivated influenza vaccine is recommended to all pregnant women, regardless of their trimester of pregnancy. The inactivated influenza vaccine is safe to be received during pregnancy.
Flu symptoms in pregnancy should be recognised as soon as possible.
Pregnant women and women who are within two weeks of delivery with confirmed or suspected influenza should receive prompt treatment with antiviral medications (oseltamivir, zanamivir or peramivir). Antibiotics will not relieve flu symptoms or speed up recovery! Antibiotics are prescribed only in case of bacterial complications of influenza, such as bacterial pneumonia, sinusitis, middle ear infection etc.
Symptoms in pregnant women are similar to those in the general population and include a sudden fever (temperature higher than 37.9ºC), extreme tiredness, body aches, headache, dry cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, runny nose, loss of appetite, diarrhea, abdominal pain, muscle pain, nausea and being sick.
Most people find it difficult to distinguish between cold and flu, but flu symptoms tend to be more severe. Flu tends to appear more quickly, within a few hours, and affects the “whole body” and not only the nose and throat. Flu makes one feel exhausted and too unwell to carry on as normal. A cold, on the other hand, appears gradually, affects mainly the nose and throat. A cold makes one feel unwell, but still capable of carrying on with daily activities.
Flu is very infectious and easily spread to other people, especially in the first five to seven days after the first symptoms occur. It is spread by germs from coughs and sneezes, which can live on hands and surfaces for more than 24 hours. To reduce the risk of both catching and spreading the flu to others, these measures of precaution should be followed: washing hands regularly with soap and warm water after contact with respiratory secretions, covering nose or mouth and using tissues while coughing and sneezing, promptly disposing used tissues and cleaning surfaces like keyboards, telephones and door handles regularly to get rid of germs.
Most people with flu get better on their own. Bed rest, sleeping, keeping warm, taking paracetamol (acetaminophen) to lower the temperature and treat aches and pains and drinking plenty of water to avoid dehydration will help reduce the symptoms and speed up recovery in both the general population and pregnant women.
However, pregnant women and women who have just delivered and suspect they have the flu or have been exposed to the flu virus should seek medical advice and help. Those women should get the antiviral medication as soon as possible as they are more likely to develop severe illness.
by Dr. Tena Kovacevic - Family Medical Practice Hanoi