Flu season arrived early — and in force — this season, yet one of the most vulnerable groups is lagging in immunizations.
For the week ending Dec. 3, nearly 47% of women 15 to 49 hospitalized for flu were pregnant, per the Influenza Hospitalization Surveillance Network, higher than in previous seasons. For 2018-2019, the rate was 26.1%, and in 2020-2021, 37.4%. The increase in flu testing may be partly responsible, but another factor could be the almost 10% drop in vaccinations from the previous season, which was the same date. It is 20% lower than prepandemic.
Pregnant women are advised to get their flu shots as soon as they can, as flu is likely to spread into the spring.
“We know that if your pregnancy is not a normal one, you are at greater risk of developing pulmonary diseases like COVID, influenza, or any other pulmonary respiratory disease,” Dr. Thomas Howell Jr., OB/GYN at Mayo Clinic Health System.
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Pregnancy can cause problems with the immune system, organs such as the heart and lungs, and increase the risk of serious illness and hospitalization. The CDC states that the flu shot can reduce the chances of getting the virus in the first and second trimesters of pregnancy, and it can also lower the likelihood of being hospitalized by up to 40%.
Although it is not perfect, Howell states that the purpose of immunizations “is to prevent you from getting sicker, particularly very gravely ill,”
The baby must be vaccinated as well, since infection can lead to complications. At 2020 CDC study found flu infection during pregnancy can increase risk of miscarriage and decrease birth weight.
The CDC’s Vaccine Safety Datalink shows the influenza vaccine does not increase chance of pregnancy loss, and Howell notes the inoculation “is not a virus that the baby can get infected by,” nor will it cause infection for the mother.
Since babies can’t get the flu shot until six-months-old, immunization during pregnancy helps to provide early protection. It provides antibodies through the placenta as well as through breast milk.
Every season, all youth over six months should get the flu shot. Children younger than 2 and those with chronic medical conditions are especially susceptible to severe side effects. In the period 2010-2020, approximately 80% of children who died from flu complications were unvaccinated. This season, 21 children, including two from Wisconsin, have already died.
Said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, CMO and state epidemiologist: “Flu cases in Wisconsin are on the rise. It is crucial to take steps to protect yourself and your loved ones.” Flu vaccines are safe, effective and recommended for all Wisconsinites. This is the best way to prevent serious illness. hospitalization, and death during flu season.”
“We know from experience that you have a higher chance of becoming sick with COVID, influenza or any other pulmonary disease if your pregnancy is not completed.
Dr. Thomas Howell Jr. is an OB-GYN at Mayo Clinic Health System