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Influenza and pregnancy

Pregnancy Dr Erin Nesbitt-Hawes Director
Influenza can have significant consequences for many people whether they are very old or very young. Pregnancy is another time when the flu can be dangerous, and even fatal.

With autumn and winter upon us, the time has come for influenza (flu) vaccination.  There are many changes during pregnancy that increase the risk of the flu having serious consequences such as the development of pneumonia, respiratory failure and even death.  Pregnant women throughout Australia are eligible to receive a free influenza vaccination which can be administered by your GP.  The best time to have the vaccination is as soon as possible!  It doesn’t matter which trimester of pregnancy you are in, there is no harm to your baby.  In fact, the good news is that by vaccinating yourself during pregnancy, you are also protecting your baby against the flu for the first 6 months of their lives.

“But every time I have the flu vaccination, I get sick…”  This is a common excuse for not getting vaccinated.  In truth, the virus is completely inactivated or ‘killed’ before being broken down into smaller particles.  These are what your body uses to mount the immune response.  It is not possible for them to cause influenza after administration.  What you may get are some mild aches and pains which are self-limited and actually represent the fact that your body is responding to the vaccination and boosting your immunity.  Coughs and colds and minor respiratory viruses are common in this season, and it is also quite possible that you may have picked up something coincidentally around the time of your vaccination.  The flu vaccine covers you for the three most common strains of the virus which were around in the Northern Hemisphere last season.  It does not protect against the common cold.

Who else should get vaccinated?  Unless you have a medical contraindication, the vaccine is recommended for everyone!  It will give you protection against the flu virus even if you are otherwise fit and healthy, and may mean less days laid up in bed over winter… Remember, the more people who are vaccinated, the less chance the flu virus has to take hold.  This is called “herd immunity”.  Particular groups that are high risk can get the vaccine for free.  These include pregnant women, adults aged ≥65, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged ≥15, immunocompromised people and anyone ≥6 months of age who has a medical condition placing them at increased risk of influenza complications.  Your GP can organise this for you.