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Pregnant Women Urged to Get Flu Shots

Health care professionals will soon be receiving letters from several leading medical groups urging them to encourage pregnant women to get a flu shot.   The reason for the concerted effort to get the word out is because although pregnant women make up only 1% of the population, they represented 5% of all swine flu deaths last year.

Typically, pregnant women are reluctant to receive any type of medication during pregnancy; however, the benefits of receiving an influenza vaccine actually extend from the mother to the newborn child.  When a baby is born, he or she has extra protection from the mother’s immune system for the first few months of life, according to the March of Dimes.

An added bonus is that this year, the vaccine contains forms of the swine flu and two other influenza viruses, negating the need for two shots.  As previously reporting in Food Consumer, last year’s vaccine had already been developed before the swine flu pandemic appeared on the horizon.

There is one disclaimer regarding the vaccine – pregnant mothers should not receive the nasal spray form.  FluMist consists of a weakened, yet live form of the flu viruses it protects from, whereas flu shots are made from dead viruses.

It is important to note that the actual flu virus itself is not fatal.  However, if it strikes pregnant women or other immune system compromised individuals, more serious complications can develop that can ultimately claim the life of the patient.

Oddly, these complications typically appear when the ailing patient appears to be becoming stronger.

Once the initial bout with the flu virus has completed its run, secondary infection in the form of bacterial pneumonia or influenza viral pneumonia often occurs. The flu virus itself severely damages the epithelial cells around the lung (these cells serve as a protective covering over major organs, including the lungs). Very literally, a victim can drown in his own body fluids at this point.

The symptoms of secondary infections resulting from influenza are a productive cough, thick yellow or green mucus, bloody cough, and shortness of breath. While an antibiotic is worthless when it comes to the flu, they are essential in treating secondary illnesses.

The flu virus is no respecter of persons; it hits all segments of the population, including pregnant women. The best course of action for expectant mothers this fall is to get vaccinated, wash hands frequently during flu season, and if at all possible, avoid contact with an infected patient.