Flu vaccine in pregnancy curbs infant illness

Flu in an infant can be a scary experience. These infants suffer a higher rate of complications compared with older babies who have the flu. However, pregnant women who get a flu vaccine give their babies some protection, according to a study published Monday.

Babies under 6 months of age are born with what appears to be some natural protection from flu passed on by the mother’s antibodies. However this natural immunity isn’t totally protective and pregnant women are widely encouraged to get an annual flu shot to protect themselves and their babies. In the study, researchers found that babies whose mothers were vaccinated during pregnancy had a 41% lower risk of flu infection and a 39% lower risk of hospitalization from flu-like illness compared with babies whose mothers were not vaccinated.

Flu vaccines are not given to children under 6 months of age, so the mother’s vaccination is the most effective way to prevent flu in infants along with breast-feeding, which also appears to bolster an infant’s immune system. However, the primary reason pregnant women should have an annual flu vaccine is to protect themselves. Complications from the flu during pregnancy can be life-threatening, especially an infection during the third trimester. In an editorial accompanying the study, published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, the authors note that flu vaccination among pregnant women is still far too low even though the practice has been recommended since 1997. That’s unacceptable, they write. “Maternal influenza vaccination targets two high-risk groups with one vaccine dose--we can’t afford not to act.”

-- Shari Roan / Los Angeles Times

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