AMA, CDC, March of Dimes and others urge pregnant women to get flu shots

The American Medical Assn., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the March of Dimes and seven other groups sent a letter to healthcare professionals Wednesday urging them to counsel pregnant patients to get a seasonal flu shot. The 2010 seasonal flu shot provides protection against the pandemic H1N1 influenza virus as well as two other flu viruses that are expected to be circulating this winter.

The letter notes that pregnant women represent only 1% of the U.S. population but account for 5% of all deaths during the swine flu pandemic. Severe illness also was documented in women after delivery. Immunization during pregnancy also provides protection to the newborn infant until he or she is old enough to receive a flu shot.

Many women fear getting the vaccine because they think it might harm the fetus. But the organizations note that the vaccine had been given to millions of pregnant women over the last decade and had not been shown to harm either the women or their infants. Contracting influenza during a pregnancy, in contrast, can cause severe harm to both the mother and infant. Changes in the immune system, heart and lungs during pregnancy make pregnant women more prone to severe illness from influenza.

The vaccine can be given safely to women in any trimester or to postpartum women who are breastfeeding. Pregnant women should be given an injectable flu shot and not the nasal-spray vaccine because its safety in pregnant women had not been studied, the organizations said. Additional information for pregnant women is available here.

-- Thomas H. Maugh II / Los Angeles Times