The H1N1 virus, commonly known as the swine flu, has become a worldwide health concern. Health authorities — such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization — are keeping a close eye on the virus, and new data is becoming available every day.
During flu season, the H1N1 virus is of particular concern for pregnant women. That’s because pregnant women, along with people who have chronic diseases such as asthma or diabetes, are considered to be the most at risk. That’s unsettling news for moms-to-be, but there is no need to panic. Being well informed and taking certain precautions can help you stay healthy.
We asked one expert, OB/GYN physician Amy Giedt, to answer some common questions about the H1N1 virus and pregnancy.
1. Why are pregnant women more at risk?
They have a higher risk of contracting the H1N1 virus because a woman’s immune system is relaxed during pregnancy.
2. How can I limit my chances of getting the H1N1 virus?
It’s important to maintain optimal health, so be sure to eat nutritious food, exercise regularly and get enough sleep. In addition, take these precautions:
- Avoid close contact with people who have flu-like symptoms.
- Limit your exposure to crowds.
- Cough and sneeze into your elbow instead of your hands.
- Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water for at least 30 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Open windows in your home to improve airflow.
3. Should I get the H1N1 vaccine?
Talk to your doctor first, but in most cases, it’s recommended that pregnant women get vaccinated immediately once the H1N1 vaccine becomes available (expected by the end of October). The vaccine can be given during any trimester of pregnancy, so there’s no need to wait.
4. Should I get the seasonal flu vaccine?
Again, talk to your doctor first, but in general, pregnant women should get the seasonal flu vaccine, too, because it protects against different strains of the flu, and any type of flu is a concern during pregnancy.
5. What are the symptoms of the H1N1 virus?
Fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headaches, chills and fatigue. Some people experience vomiting and diarrhea. According to the CDC, different people are experiencing different symptoms, and not all people with the H1N1 virus have a fever.
6. What should a pregnant woman do if she has been exposed to someone who has the H1N1 virus?
You should contact your doctor immediately. Your doctor will decide if it’s necessary to start treatment with Tamiflu, an antiviral drug that keeps the flu virus from reproducing in your body. Tamiflu works best when given early, so don’t wait to call your doctor.
7. What should I do if I have flu-like symptoms while I’m pregnant?
Call your doctor immediately and follow your doctor’s advice. As a general rule, pregnant women should go to urgent care centers (not the emergency room) to get tested for the H1N1 virus. Health authorities want to keep people who might have the H1N1 virus out of emergency rooms. Also, get plenty of rest, take Tylenol to reduce fever and stay well hydrated.
8. How can I tell if I’ve really got the H1N1 virus?
The only way to know for sure is to get tested in a medical facility that has appropriate testing available. A respiratory sample is taken by swabbing your nose or throat, and the sample is then sent to the laboratory.
9. What if I get the H1N1 virus; will my unborn baby also get sick?
This is a common concern, but no, the baby doesn’t get the flu.
10. What are the possible complications from having the H1N1 virus while I’m pregnant?
Your doctor will watch for respiratory complications and dehydration. If complications develop, you may need to be admitted to the hospital. We’re worried about the effects on the mother’s body, which could ultimately translate to miscarriage, preterm labor or less oxygen getting to the baby if the mother isn’t treated. While some deaths have been associated with severe illness, most pregnant women experience the H1N1 virus much like any other bout of the flu.
“As we head into fall, do your best to limit your chances of getting any kind of flu, and if you do have any symptoms, call your doctor right away,” says Giedt. “The H1N1 virus is something to take seriously, but it’s not something to worry about excessively.”
Amy Giedt is an OB/GYN physician at Women’s Health Associates in Overland Park, Kansas; Megan Delaney is a freelance writer.