What pregnant women should expect from the H1N1 virus
Michael Urig, MD, is chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center.
Question: I'm 13 weeks pregnant and my co-worker has just been diagnosed with H1N1? What should I do?
Answer: Much attention has been given to influenza A, also known as the H1N1 virus. Its impact is widespread and can particularly affect individuals more vulnerable to illness, such as the elderly, children and people with other ailments. Pregnant women are also considered at higher risk, as the symptoms of H1N1 have been found to be more severe in expectant mothers.
A woman’s body has to work hard during pregnancy to support itself and the developing fetus, so her immune system can sometimes be less effective in fighting off illness. Because of this, influenza of any type can be worse in pregnant women, resulting in increased rates of miscarriage, preterm birth and pneumonia. And while most pregnant women who get influenza will experience few, if any, complications, the virus can become complicated by other infections. So, certain precautions should be taken.
All pregnant women should get a flu shot when it becomes available, along with the H1N1 vaccine when it is introduced. Because the flu is spread by contact with eyes, nose or mouth, pregnant women should also pay special attention to hand washing and avoiding other people with signs of cold or flu. The H1N1 vaccine is expected to arrive this fall, and priority will be given to expectant mothers, but taking these basic precautions is wise.
Those who get the virus typically suffer upper-respiratory symptoms like a sore throat, a non-productive cough, body aches, headaches, and most importantly, a fever of more than 100.5 degrees. If an expectant mother develops these symptoms, she should contact her doctor right away to be tested for the virus and treatment should not be delayed while awaiting test results. Antiviral medications like zanamivir (Relenza) and oseltamivir (Tamiflu) are most effective when started as soon as symptoms appear. For women concerned about the impact these treatments may have on their pregnancies, the benefits of the medications far outweigh any risks to the fetus.