Dealing with the Swine Flu Threat During Pregnancy
By Deborah Kotz
The worldwide death toll from swine flu is now at 700, according to the
And the U.S. government is gearing up for a mass vaccination campaign this fall, one not seen since the polio vaccine first became available in the 1950s.
Earlier this week, the
When it becomes available later this fall, should pregnant women be among the first to get it, or the last?
On the one hand, healthy pregnant women who get infected with the flu are at increased risk of serious illness and hospitalization.
In fact, the second H1N1 flu death in
On the other hand, pregnant women also are advised to be very cautious when taking any medications -- especially the newest ones -- because of unknown health risks to the developing fetus.
What's more, many folks remember the 1976 swine flu vaccination fiasco, when some 500 Americans out of the 43 million vaccinated developed Guillain-Barré syndrome a rare paralyzing condition that may have been linked to the shot.
Just today, public health experts said that there's no way to know if any rare side effects will occur in the new vaccine until millions of people are vaccinated. Those unknowns would make an expectant mom especially nervous.
There's also the question of thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative that was banished from other childhood vaccines several years ago but is still used in most flu vaccines.
In a previous blog post, I quoted thimerosal researcher
He's seen from his research on infant monkeys that the mercury in thimerosal passes into the brain and remains there for months. That's not to say that a single flu shot is unsafe, he says, but it's still best for pregnant women to minimize any exposure to mercury.
The new H1N1 vaccine will come in a variety of formulations, including some that won't contain thimerosal, according to a spokesperson for
Pregnant women who want to avoid the compound, however, may need to search a bit to find a doctor who stocks thimerosal-free versions of both
flu vaccines. Most gynecologists don't bother because the CDC doesn't say there's any need for pregnant women to avoid thimerosal.
Most likely, the CDC will recommend that pregnant women get both vaccines this fall, but the agency hasn't yet finalized its recommendations for at-risk groups (including mothers-to-be).
In terms of other precautions pregnant women should take to minimize the risk of swine flu, the CDC advises pregnant women who have been exposed to someone infected with H1N1 to be treated with the antiviral drug Tamiflu.
Ditto for those who have flu symptoms themselves.
This advice -- which doesn't apply to healthy women who aren't expecting -- is due to the fact that H1N1 infections have led to more severe complications in pregnant women.
One piece of swine flu advice directed at British pregnant women, though, sounds pretty shocking to me.
A few days ago the
The agency also said expecting women should avoid crowds and should limit the movements of their kids so they don't bring the virus home.
I'm guessing most pregnant women would ignore that advice--at least as long as the virus stays its course and doesn't become more dangerous.
The Swine Flu outbreak could peter out, like a 1976 swine flu outbreak did. Or the virus could spread easily from one person to the next, sparking a pandemic in which millions of people are infected. Here's the rundown on what we know so far, as well as the options for avoiding swine flu and for treating it if you get it.
As predicted, pregnant women are, indeed, on the government's list of the first folks to be vaccinated against the H1N1 swine flu virus. The panel of experts convened by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that the new vaccine be provided first to pregnant women and adults with compromised immune systems, who face a greater risk of complications, and others, like children and health-care workers.
Swine Flu Hits Pregnant Women Harder
New research shows pregnant women who get swine flu are more likely to develop severe complications that result in hospitalization or even death, according to a study published in the journal Lancet.
Think You Have Swine Flu? What to Do
By Deborah Kotz
It's OK to go about your life as usual even in the face of this flu "pandemic". But you should be aware of the telltale signs of H1N1: fever, cough, sore throat, stomach cramps, diarrhea, fatigue, and muscle aches.
Wayne Marasco is no doubt the only Harvard medical researcher who abandoned a successful construction firm, Waymar Roofing and Siding, to become an immunologist. The man with the unorthodox history recently made a striking discovery: a human antibody that attacks a newfound vulnerability in flu viruses.
Who's Ready if Swine Flu Pandemic Comes Knocking
Andy Coghlan, Linda Geddes & Rachel Nowak, New Scientist Magazine
Doomsday visions of curfews, sealed borders, travel bans and scuffles over food are a long way from materializing in the current crisis regarding swine flu.
But if the World Health Organization declares a pandemic, countries could bring in draconian measures to isolate and treat infection, prevent further spread and keep societies functioning.
The question, then, is which countries are ready and prepared to handle a Swine Flu Pandemic.
(C) 2009 U.S. News & World Report