October 23, 2009

H1N1 vaccine for pregnant women: known risks vs the unknown

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Despite the relative newness of the H1N1 flu vaccine, experts from the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control say pregnant women can and should be at the front of the line to receive their shots.

The reason?  Pregnant women’s immune systems and lung capacity are diminished by bearing another life within them, making them more susceptible to be hospitalized, miscarry or die due to contracting the flu.

So whether it is the H1N1 vaccine or Tamiflu (also used to treat garden variety influenza), the Los Angeles Times’ Shari Roan reports that CDC scientists and doctors’ associations recommend treatment of flu-like symptoms in pregnant women should begin even before it is confirmed they have the flu.

Understandably, pregnant women are reluctant to put drugs into their bodies that they fear could affect their babies, and subsequently they vaccinate themselves less than the general population.   But the known risks — of death, pneumonia, hospitalization and miscarriage — outweigh the unknown, doctors say.

Until this year, Tamiflu was not recommended for pregnant women because of the uncertainty about damaging the fetus.  That lack of data remains today, though recent Canadian studies did not find that Tamiflu caused a higher rate of birth defects than what is considered normal.

The CDC posts regular updates about how the H1N1 flu is rapidly spreading through the county, and who it is affecting most: 95 children have died so far.

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