Swine flu and pregnancy

How risky is swine flu when you're pregnant? Could it harm your unborn baby? Can you take the anti viral medicine? Don't feel confused - we've got the latest answers

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I’m pregnant and feeling under the weather. What should I do?

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If you think you might have swine flu (see symptoms below), you should ring your doctor straight away. Your doctor will diagnose you over the phone. 

What are the symptoms of swine flu?
A fever is the major symptom – that is a temperature of 38C (100.4F). Other symptoms include dry cough, sore throat, diarrhoea, headache, chills, tiredness, aching muscles or limbs, runny nose, sneezing and loss of appetite.

Am I more likely to catch swine flu because I’m pregnant?
The straight answer from the health experts is yes, but don’t worry unnecessarily. Being pregnant means you’re more susceptible to all infections, because your immune system is naturally compromised in pregnancy. Swine flu (otherwise known as H1N1) is currently affecting people of younger ages and so this means you’re more at risk too.

Is swine flu more dangerous because I’m pregnant?
Swine flu becomes dangerous when complications occur. Should they develop, it’s important that you are given treatment and women who are diagnosed with any type of flu are likely to be closely monitored.

When you’re pregnant you have a greater risk of developing complications from any type of flu because your body, including your immune system, is under particular strain due to your pregnancy. However, most pregnant women will only develop mild symptoms of swine flu and will recover within a week.

The risks are greatest in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. Not enough is known about this swine flu pandemic to really be able to assess the risks but most pregnant women who catch the disease are likely to make an uncomplicated recovery.

Possible complications are pneumonia (an infection of the lungs), dehydration and difficulty with breathing – all of which are more likely to happen in the second and third trimester.

There is a small chance that these complications will lead to premature labour or miscarriage but there is not yet enough information known about swine flu to know exactly how likely these birth risks are.

Can swine flu affect my unborn baby?
Swine flu is a brand new strain of flu, so not everything is known about it yet, including whether or not it will cross the placenta. However, we do know that with normal seasonal flu, your baby is well protected against the virus within your womb. If you do suspect you may have swine flu, make sure you ring your doctor straight away.

How is swine flu spread?
Swine flu spreads from person to person in the same way as other flu viruses: through coughing and sneezing by people who are infected. Swine flu is very contagious and spreads easily, particularly in enclosed spaces where there is close contact between infected people and healthy people. Swine flu is not spread by eating or preparing pork.

So should I stay away from anywhere where infected people might be?
That’s not really feasible, without massively affecting your daily life. The latest official advice is to still get on with life – so if you have to travel on public transport to get into work, you should still do so, but you may want to think about how or when you travel.

For example, you may want to talk to your employer about avoiding the peak rush hour, so coming in a little earlier or later. Also, don’t take unnecessary journeys on crowded buses and trains.

The main thing to do is to wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water and keep hard surfaces clean, regularly using a normal cleaning product.

Should I still go to ante-natal appointments, especially if they’re in hospital?
Yes, you should still attend your ante-natal appointments, so your pregnancy can be monitored. Only don’t attend if you suspect you might have swine flu, in which case ring your GP straight away and then midwife to let her know.

What should I do if think I’ve come in contact with someone who has swine flu?
Ring your doctor (rather than going into the surgery) and explain your concerns. Your doctor may prescribe you anti viral medication (usually Relenza) in an attempt to prevent you getting swine flu.

So the anti viral medicine is safe even though I’m pregnant?

An expert group has reviewed the safety of taking anti virals while you’re pregnant and found that there was an extremely small risk, but that this is much smaller than the risk posed by the symptoms of swine flu itself.

You’re most likely to be given the drug Relenza. Relenza is inhaled rather than swallowed and so very little gets into the bloodstream, which means  it treats flu without reaching the developing fetus. Relenza should not affect your pregnancy or your growing baby.

However, if your doctor or midwifery specialist thinks that a different medicine is needed (for instance, if you have unusually severe flu), you will be given Tamiflu instead.

Remember, don’t take anti viral medication unless you’ve been prescribed it by your doctor. 

What are the possible side effects of Relenza?

Some people have had wheezing or breathing problems when they have used Relenza. Relenza is therefore not recommended for people with asthma or pulmonary disease. Other possible side effects include headaches, diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting.

If you do have side effects while taking anti virals, go back to your doctor for a check-up.

Can I take flu remedies or headache pills if I’m pregnant?

It’s OK to take paracetamol or paracetamol-base cold remedies to reduce fever and other symptoms. However, as with any medicine you take during pregnancy, take the lowest effective dose you can for the shortest possible time.

However, you should not take ibuprofen, such as Nurofen, or any other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

As I’m pregnant, will I have to have the swine flu vaccine?

Swine flu vaccine has now arrived in the UK and pregnant women are among the groups of people who are considered ‘higher risk’ and therefore are being targeted for vaccination. Read our guide to pregnancy swine flu vaccination for help and advice plus talk to your midwife or GP if you’re feeling unsure about whether to have the jab.

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