H1N1 and pregnancy: what you should know

The H1N1 flu, better known by its alias “swine flu,” is still wreaking havoc around the world.  Everyone is understandably concerned.  Every time I am on the phone with my parents and let out something with the slightest resemblance to a cough, they command me to go see a doctor immediately and have the H1N1 test administered.   The most recent report released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that flu activity has begun increasing again.  If you look at their actual data, however, it is a little comforting to see that the number of H1N1-positive tests has dropped in recent weeks as compared to a couple of months ago.  The fact remains that about 20% of the 5,000+ tests conducted just this week came back positive for the flu – and about 65% of those were specifically categorized as H1N1 flu.  Yikes.

Even more staggering are the statistics for pregnant women.  Women naturally have weakened immune systems during pregnancy, but the H1N1 flu appears to hit even harder than usual.  The CDC has stated that “6% of confirmed fatal 2009 H1N1 flu cases thus far have been in pregnant women while only about 1% of the general population is pregnant.”  (You can read a summary of this study by CDC officials published in The Lancet, one of the leading medical journals in the world.)   History also tells us that with flu pandemics come increased numbers of spontaneous abortions and premature birthsBut have no fear! The H1N1 vaccine will be distributed very soon and pregnant women are atop the priority list.  Even better, it has been reported that just one shot seems to be protective, so the current vaccine production could potentially immunize twice as many people.

It was also reported this week that the U.S. and a cohort of other nations are planning to donate a portion of their vaccine supplies for the World Health Organization (WHO) to administer in poorer countries around the world.  There will undoubtedly be grumbling by some who do not want to share, but I applaud this decision.  Why shouldn’t expectant mothers in other lands receive the same protection as expectant mothers here in the U.S., to be given the best possible chance to have a healthy child, and to be alive to see them grow?  I think we should be contributing as much as we can to the global control of this illness (and countless others!).  What is your opinion on this issue?

For more information from the CDC:

  • A CDC website dedicated to all things H1N1 flu
  • The CDC’s Q&A page specifically for pregnant women worried about H1N1 flu