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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 two types of flu that pregnant women should be concerned about are the seasonal (regular) flu and the 2009 H1N1 (swine) flu. Either of these two types of 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, such as 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.

Note about the 2009 H1N1 Flu: The 2009 H1N1 flu is called this because the virus first spread in the year 2009. It was originally called “swine flu.” Despite the name, eating pork or pork products does not cause this flu. Eating pork or pork products that have been properly handled and cooked is safe.

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 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 100.0ºF; 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…

  • Call your doctor right away. Follow any instructions your doctor gives you.

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

  • Your doctor may prescribe medications called antivirals, especially if he or she suspects you have the H1N1 flu. These medications must be taken within 2 days of when your symptoms started. In some cases, your doctor may not wait for test results to come back before starting you on antivirals. These medications 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 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 doctor which ones are safe for you to take.

Easing Flu Symptoms

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

  • Get plenty of rest.

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

  • Apply warm compresses to your forehead or sinuses to relieve congestion.

  • Call your doctor if your fever rises higher than 100.0ºF (37.8°C), 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 that protects against both the regular and H1N1 flu. However, pregnant women should not receive the nasal spray vaccine (live-virus vaccine) for the regular 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 percent 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 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 to 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 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 gel is gone and your hands are completely dry.


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