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Influenza (Flu) and Pregnancy

Influenza (“the flu”) is an infection of the respiratory tract (the mouth, nose, and lungs, and the passages between them). The flu can make a pregnant woman very ill. This is because pregnant women are at high risk of flu complications. These complications include sinus infections and serious lung infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia. In rare cases, miscarriage of the baby or even death of the mother can result.

 

Anyone can get the flu. But you’re more likely to catch the flu if you:

  • Work in a health care setting where you may be exposed to flu germs.

  • Live or work with someone who has the flu.

  • Haven’t received an annual flu shot.

How does the flu spread?

The flu is caused by a virus (a type of germ). The germ spreads through the air in droplets when someone who has the flu coughs, sneezes, laughs, or talks. You can become infected when you inhale the germ directly. You can also become infected when you touch a surface on which the droplets have landed and then transfer the germ to your eyes, nose, or mouth. Touching used tissues, or sharing utensils, drinking glasses, or a toothbrush with an infected person can expose you to the flu germ, too.

What are the symptoms of the flu?

Flu symptoms tend to come on quickly and may last a few days to a few weeks. They include:

  • Fever (usually higher than 101ºF (38.3°C) and chills

  • Sore throat and headache

  • Dry cough

  • Runny nose

  • Tiredness and weakness

  • Body and muscle aches

If you are are pregnant and have flu-like symptoms…

  • Call your health care provider right away. Follow any instructions your provider gives you.

  • You may be asked to get tested to confirm that you have the flu.

  • Your health care provider may prescribe antiviral medications. These medications must be taken within 2 days of when your symptoms started. In some cases, your provider may not wait for test results to come back before starting you on an antiviral medication. Your symptoms may be milder and you may recover quicker than without the medication. The medication may also prevent serious complications such as pneumonia.

  • If you feel you need medications to relieve symptoms, ask your provider which ones are safe for you to take.

Easing flu symptoms

  • Drink lots of fluids such as water, juice, and warm soup. A good rule is to drink enough so that you urinate your normal amount.

  • Get plenty of rest.

  • If you’re not hungry, try to eat smaller meals more often during the day.

  • Apply warm, moist cloths to the forehead and over the nose to relieve congestion.

  • Call your provider if your fever rises to 101ºF (38.3°C) or higher, or you become dizzy, lightheaded, or short of breath.

Preventing the flu

  • Get vaccinated. One of the best ways to avoid the flu is to get a flu vaccination. Pregnant women can safely receive the flu shot t. However, pregnant women should not receive the nasal spray vaccine.

  • Wash your hands often. Frequent handwashing is a proven way to prevent infection. Carry an alcohol-based hand cleaner containing at least 60% alcohol. Use it when you don’t have access to soap and water.

  • Clean items you use often with disinfectant wipes. This includes phones, computer keyboards, and toys.

  • Avoid crowds as much as possible during flu season

  • Try to stay away from people who are sick.

Tips for good handwashing

Handwashing is one of the best ways to prevent many common infections. Follow these steps for more effective handwashing:

  • Use warm water and plenty of soap. Work up a good lather.

  • Clean the whole hand, under your nails, between your fingers, and up the wrists.

  • Wash for at least 15 seconds. Don’t just wipe — scrub well.

  • Rinse, letting the water run down your fingers, not up your wrists.

  • Dry your hands well. Use a paper towel to turn off the faucet and open the door.

Using alcohol-based hand cleaners

Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also a good choice for cleaning your hands. Use them when you don’t have access to soap and water. Follow these steps:

  • Squeeze about a tablespoon of cleaner into the palm of one hand.

  • Rub your hands together briskly, cleaning the backs of your hands, the palms, between your fingers, and up the wrists.

  • Rub until the cleaner is gone and your hands are completely dry.

  • Then, when you do have access to soap and water, wash your hands.

 

Online Medical Reviewer: Dolan, Mary S, MD, MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: Holloway, Beth, RN, M.Ed.
Online Medical Reviewer: Morell, Patrick W, MD
Last Review Date: 12/22/2011
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