Pregnancy and Influenza: Increased Risk of Complications for Pregnant Women

According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), women infected with the influenza virus during pregnancy are at an increased risk for complications that result in hospitalization and death. Of the 347 pregnant women diagnosed with the flu in the report, 75 died as a result of complications.

Influenza, or the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by various flu viruses. Symptoms of the flu include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, and fatigue. Complications of the flu include pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus and ear infections, and death. Influenza is not the same as the stomach flu, which is characterized by nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. The seasonal flu vaccine protects against the respiratory flu.

Complications associated with maternal influenza infections include:

  • Miscarriage and stillbirth
  • Premature birth
  • Birth defects
  • Maternal pneumonia
  • Maternal death

Pregnant women with underlying conditions including asthma, pregestational diabetes and gestational diabetes. hypertension, cancer, chronic lung disease, autoimmune disease, neurologic disease, thyroid conditions, and kidney conditions were at an even higher risk for complications from the flu. Furthermore, pregnancy increases the risk of hospitalization due to the flu.

Some highlights of the report include:

  • 347 women had severe illness
  • 272 women were admitted to the ICU and did not die
  • 75 women died
  • 49.8 percent of those with severe illness had underlying medical conditions
  • 61.5 percent of those in the ICU with underlying conditions died compared to 46.7 percent with no underlying conditions
  • Of those who died, 86.1 percent were given antiviral treatment with a neuraminidase inhibitor
  • Among those who survived, 94.8 percent were given antiviral treatment with a neuraminidase inhibitor
  • Only 7 percent (4) of the women who died received treatment with a neuraminidase inhibitor within two hours of becoming ill
  • 40.6 percent of those who survived received treatment with a neuraminidase inhibitor within two hours of becoming ill

To lower the risk of complications from the flu, all pregnant women are urged to receive an inactivated flu vaccine. The benefits of receiving the flu shot outweigh any theoretical risks to the fetus. Furthermore, maternal influenza vaccination offers protection to the baby after birth until the child can receive his or her own vaccine at six months of age.

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Maternal and Infant Outcomes Among Severely Ill Pregnant and Postpartum Women with 2009 Pandemic Influenza A (H1N1) — United States, April 2009–August 2010:
Pregnant Women At High Risk Of Death If They Have Severe Pandemic Flu:
Rasmussen, Sonja A., Denise J. Jamieson, and Joseph S. Bresee. 2008. Pandemic Influenza and Pregnant Women. Perspective 14(1).

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