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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 for flu complications. These complications include sinus infections and serious lung infections, like bronchitis and pneumonia. In rare cases, miscarriage of the baby or even death of the mother can result. This sheet tells you more about the flu, what to do if you come down with the flu, and what you can do to avoid infection.

Closeup of hands in sink with running water. Hands are covered with soap suds.
Washing your hands often with soap and water can help keep you from catching the flu virus.

What are risk factors for the flu?

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

  • Have frequent, close contact with young children.

  • Work in a healthcare 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 100ºF; 37.8°C) and chills

  • Sore throat and headache

  • Dry cough

  • Runny nose

  • Tiredness and weakness

  • Body and muscle aches

If you are pregnant and have flu-like symptoms

Here are some suggestions:

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

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

  • Your healthcare provider may prescribe medicines called antivirals. These medicines must be taken within 2 days of when your symptoms started. In some cases, your healthcare provider may not wait for test results to come back before starting you on antivirals. These medicines work by stopping the flu virus from reproducing in your body. This gives your body’s immune system a chance to fight the virus. After taking the medicine, your symptoms may be milder and you may recover quicker than without the medicine. The medicine may also prevent serious complications, like pneumonia.

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

Easing flu symptoms

  • Drink lots of fluids, like water, juice, and warm soup to prevent dehydration. A good rule is to drink enough so that you urinate your normal amount. Feeling dizzy or lightheaded most likely indicates you need to drink more fluid.

  • Get plenty of rest.

  • If you’re not hungry, eat smaller meals more often during the day to maintain your nutrition intake.

  • If free from fever, apply warm compresses to your forehead or sinuses to relieve congestion.

  • Call your healthcare provider if you become short of breath.

Preventing the flu

  • Get vaccinated. One of the best ways to avoid the flu is to get a flu vaccine. Pregnant women can safely receive the flu shot. However, pregnant women should not receive the nasal spray vaccine (live-virus vaccine) for the flu. (It may be harmful to the baby.)

  • Wash your hands often. Frequent handwashing is a proven way to prevent infection. Carry an alcohol-based hand gel 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 and children as much as possible while you’re pregnant. Avoid being around anyone who has the flu.

Tips for good handwashing

Handwashing is 1 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 20 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 gels

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

  • Squeeze about a tablespoon of gel into the palm of 1 hand.

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

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

Online Medical Reviewer: Dozier, Tennille, RN, BSN, RDMS
Online Medical Reviewer: Sacks, Daniel, MD, FACOG
Last Review Date: 8/9/2015
© 2000-2015 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.