This year’s flu season has been particularly bad and shows no signs of letting up soon. Health complications from the flu, such as pneumonia, can be serious and even deadly, especially if you’re pregnant or just had a baby. If you think you may have the flu, contact your health care provider right away. Quick treatment with antiviral medications can help prevent serious flu complications.
How do you know if you have the flu?
Common signs and symptoms of the flu include:
- Cough or sore throat
- Feeling very tired
- Muscle or body aches
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Vomiting (throwing up) and diarrhea (more common in children)
Fever and most other symptoms can last a week or longer. But some people can be sick from the flu for a long time, including children, people older than 65, pregnant women and women who have recently had a baby.
Why is the flu more dangerous for pregnant women?
The flu can be dangerous during pregnancy and up to two weeks postpartum because:
- Pregnancy affects your immune system. During pregnancy your immune system doesn’t respond as effectively to viruses and illnesses. This means you are more likely to catch the flu.
- Your lungs need more oxygen during pregnancy but your growing belly puts pressure on your lungs, making them work harder in a smaller space. Your heart is working harder as well. This extra stress on your body can make you more likely to get the flu.
- You’re more likely to have serious complications, like pneumonia.
- Pregnant women who get the flu are more likely to have preterm labor and premature birth (before 37 weeks).
What treatment is available?
If you think you have the flu, your health care provider can prescribe antiviral medication. Antivirals kill infections caused by viruses. They can make your flu milder and help you feel better faster. Antivirals can help prevent serious flu complications, like pneumonia. For flu, antivirals work best if you take them within 2 days of having symptoms. But they may still be helpful if started later, so make sure you talk to you provider even if you have been sick for more than 2 days.
In the United States, two medicines are approved for preventing or treating the flu in pregnant women and women who recently had a baby. You can only get them with a prescription so talk to your provider about which one is right for you:
- Oseltamivir (brand name Tamiflu®)
- Zanamivir (brand name Relenza®). This medicine is a powder that you breathe in by mouth. It isn’t recommended for people with breathing problems, like asthma.
Can you still get a flu shot?
YES! It’s not too late to get a flu shot. Everyone 6 months and older should get their flu shot every year. The flu shot is safe to get during pregnancy. If you do get the flu, having had a flu shot may make your illness milder and it can reduce the risk of flu-associated hospitalization.