Swine flu or infection by the H1N1 virus reached pandemic proportions in 2009. Although specific antiviral agents and vaccines have been able to control the epidemic to a significant degree, the danger is not entirely over. Swine flu is a highly contagious viral infection which produces flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, sore throat, cough, headache and body aches. Contrary to the hype at the time of the 2009 outbreak, H1N1 flu is not as severe a health risk to the general population as was believed.
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H1N1 Flu Risk to Pregnant Women
Although the entire population is at risk, certain groups of people are in more danger of contracting the disease as well as having more severe complications once they do get the disease. Pregnant women fall under this high-risk group for complications and deaths have occurred, especially in the third trimester (last 3 months) of pregnancy. It could be that pregnant women are particularly at risk because their normal immune mechanism is suppressed during pregnancy, making them more vulnerable and therefore more likely to get a severe form of the disease.
Pregnant women who have the flu or flu-like symptoms must immediately contact their doctor. The most reliable way of controlling the severity of the H1N1 flu infection is to start antiviral treatment as early as possible. Vaccines are effective in outbreaks and should be considered by pregnant women as early as possible. Most health authorities makes pregnant women priority for vaccines, along with the very young and old. The risk to pregnancy is greater from not having the vaccine and developing a severe bout of the H1N1 flu.
Complications of H1N1 Flu
Pneumonia is the most serious complications that can develop. As well as being a danger to the mother, it may cause preterm labor and thus result in delivery of a premature baby. Spontaneous abortion is another possibility.
Breathing difficulty may develop and can lead to respiratory failure. Conditions such as diabetes, asthma, COPD and heart problems may become worse.
Severe dehydration may arise with the H1N1 flu. Deaths have been reported of pregnant women who contracted H1N1. Delayed initiation of treatment with antiviral medicines has been cited as a cause although there may have been other contributing factors like pre-existing diseases in these women. HIV infection for example weakens the immune system which is further impacted by a woman’s pregnancy.
Complications of Antiviral Medicines and H1N1 Vaccines
Certain side effects may occasionally occur with antiviral medicines and vaccines. The evidence thus far suggests that these side effects are less severe and often less common compared to the complications that could develop in pregnant women who contract the H1N1 flu. Early treatment with antiviral medicines can reduce the severity of the disease, prevent complications and even avoid death.
Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and headache may occasionally occur as side effects of the antiviral drugs used. More severe complications such as difficulty breathing and wheezing can arise especially if the mother suffers from asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It is therefore important that antiviral drugs only be commenced in pregnancy once the mother has been assessed by a doctor and these drugs have then been prescribed.
H1N1 flu immunization can be administered at any stage of pregnancy and has not shown any evidence of being harmful to the mother or baby. In fact, pregnant women have been included in the priority list for being vaccinated against H1N1 flu as they are vulnerable to the complications of the flu. It is therefore imperative that pregnant women speak to their doctor about a flu vaccine, especially during the flu season.
Is H1N1 Swine Flu Dangerous to Pregnant Women?
The H1N1 flu can be a dangerous to pregnant women as it can be to most high risk groups. However, the danger should not cause stress and anxiety to pregnant mothers. Resting, maintaining a balanced diet and continous hydration will suffice in preventing complications in most women who do not have any pre-existing diseases that increases the chances of complications.
Nevertheless it should not detract from the fact that the H1N1 flu, like many other types of infections, can be dangerous. Pregnant women should follow their doctor’s orders closely to minimize the danger and take prescribed medication exactly as directed. While this will not negate all risk and dangers, every measure helps in ensuring that both and mother and baby remain healthy until the infection resolves.
Prevention and Precautions
Immunization against H1N1 flu should be given to all pregnant women, irrespective the stage of pregnancy, as a means of preventing severe symptoms or complications. Women who are not pregnant, should take all necessary precautions not to contract the H1N1 flu. It can be easily spread from person to person by sneezing, coughing or touching surfaces infected with the virus.
A few basic precautions that can be taken to reduce chances of spreading or contracting the disease include:
- Staying away from people suffering from flu-like symptoms or those with diagnosed H1N1 flu should be of utmost importance for pregnant women.
- Covering the nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing and properly disposing of any materials used immediately.
- Washing hands regularly with soap and water or an alcohol-based sanitizer is a simple precaution that can be very effective in H1N1 flu prevention.
- Cleaning surfaces such as table tops and door handles regularly is also important as these objects can harbor secretions that are contaminated with the virus.
- Although H1N1 flu may not be so severe as to prevent daily activities like work, it is nevertheless advisable to rest once infected with the flu.
Always consult with a medical professional about the exact measures and medication that should be taken to prevent and treat the H1N1 flu. Never self-medicate as some flu medication, even over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, can be dangerous for pregnant women. If symptoms worsen or there are other serious signs and symptoms then immediate medical attention is necessary even if that means a trip to the emergency room (ER). Do not wait until the morning as even a few hours can jeopardize the pregnancy.