Health officials have one crucial piece of advice for pregnant women this flu season: If you develop swine flu's telltale fever and cough, call your doctor immediately.
That's because swine flu, or H1N1 virus, hits pregnant women hard. Most people recover from the disease without any treatment. But pregnant women are more likely to develop dangerous complications that require hospital treatment. (If you catch the symptoms early, you may just need a prescription for antiviral medication.) They also have a greater risk of death from the disease than the general population, according to a study in the British medical journal The Lancet. Six pregnant women have died following an H1N1 infection, accounting for 13 percent of the 45 U.S. deaths attributed to the disease.
So how can you stay healthy this flu season? Here are five things every pregnant woman should know about swine flu:
1. It puts you and your baby at risk. "Women are at greatest risk of mortality from all flu in their third trimester," says Ron Jaekle, director of perinatal services in the division of maternal-fetal medicine at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. "That's the time you have the least ability to tolerate changes in pulmonary and cardiac function."
If you've ever been eight months pregnant and tried to race up a flight of stairs, you understand what Dr. Jaekle means. In fact, four of the six women who died after swine flu infection were in their third trimester, and all six developed pneumonia and were on respirators.
The baby can also be harmed. High fever increases the risk of birth defects and preterm birth. There also have been isolated cases where the baby contracted H1N1 while in utero. Antiviral treatment with a drug such as Tamiflu or Relenza might reduce the chances of this occurring