A Dept of Health report out today (30th Sept 2010) recommends that pregnant women should be offered free swine flu vaccinations as part of the NHS seasonal flu campaign, to safeguard against a resurgence of swine flu.
Govt Director of Immunisations Dr David Salisbury said that it was impossible to predict how the virus would behave as it circulated alongside other flu strains this winter. Children and adults who had caught the virus, or received a separate swine flu vaccine last year may have some residual immunity he said, but added that it would be ‘foolhardy’ for at-risk groups, like pregnant women, to refuse to have the vaccine:
‘Not to have the vaccine because you are prejudiced against swine flu is putting yourself at unnecessary risk. This virus can pose additional risks to pregnant women, so we are recommending this year that all pregnant women are vaccinated’ said Dr Salisbury.
Are pregnant women more at risk?
The answer is yes, you are in one of the high-risk groups for swine flu, so it’s worth finding out what you can do to protect yourself and your baby, the special precautions you can take and what the current safety information is for swine flu treatments.
Why are pregnant women more susceptible?
Expectant women are more likely to catch swine flu because in pregnancy their natural immune system is suppressed, so if they do catch it they are more likely to suffer complications. However it’s important to stress that the risk of complications is still very small and most pregnant women who catch swine flu will only suffer mild symptoms.
What are the symptoms?
Swine flu symptoms in pregnant women are similar to those of normal seasonal flu ie: fever and a cough, and occasionally also tiredness, headache, aching muscles, runny nose, sore throat, nausea or diarrhoea.
Most pregnant women will have only mild symptoms and recover within a week. However, there is evidence from previous flu pandemics that pregnant women in the second and third trimester are more likely to develop complications like pneumonia, breathing difficulties and dehydration.
If a you do develop a complication of swine flu, like pneumonia, there is a small risk that this can result in premature labour or miscarriage. But there is not enough information yet to know exactly how likely these birth risks are.
How can I protect against swine flu?
Avoid unnecessary travel and crowds, where possible.
Follow the general health advice: use and bin tissues, wash hands with soap frequently, clean hard surfaces regularly.
If your partner or a close family member or friend has swine flu check with your GP – you may be prescribed antiviral medication as a preventative measure.
If you think that you may have swine flu, check your symptoms online. If you are still concerned, call your doctor for an assessment immediately.
If you DON’T have swine flu symptoms carry on attending your antenatal appointments as normal.
What are the treatments available for pregnant women?
If you are pregnant and diagnosed with swine flu you may be prescribed the anti-viral drug Relenza (in inhaler form) which is safe for you and your growing baby. If your symptoms are severe you may be given Tamiflu.
You can also take paracetamol-based cold remedies to reduce fever and other symptoms, these are pregnancy-safe.
The swine flu vaccine will be available again this Autumn, via your GP surgery, and you should take up the offer of vaccination when it is given to you. The vaccine will not harm you or your baby.
What about children?
The Government advises that if your child is showing symptoms of swine flu and has a temperature higher than 38degC, you should seek consult your GP. The best protection for young babies is to breastfeed as this builds up immunity. Also keep them away from crowded places when possible and observe good hygiene.
Speak to your doctor (GP) or call NHS Direct (0845 4647) for advice
For more swine flu in pregnancy information visit NHS Direct