Australia’s flu season just ended, and it was the worst they’ve seen since 2019, with more than 1,700 hospitalizations and nearly 300 deaths. That country’s experience is a strong indicator of what is likely to happen in the U.S. this winter – and a serious reminder to get a flu shot, especially if you’re pregnant or trying for a baby.
During the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, flu seasons were mild in the U.S., largely because wearing masks, social distancing, and practicing vigilant hand hygiene helped significantly slow viral circulation.
Now that travel and in-person school have resumed and most mask mandates have been lifted, the influenza virus can pass more freely from person to person. Since immunity to viruses wanes over time and less flu virus was circulating recently, the risk of severe infection is higher.
We understand that some people are tired of thinking about vaccines after more than two years of living through a pandemic. U.S. flu vaccination rates dropped nearly 14% during that time. Still, we encourage patients to get vaccinated because during pregnancy because women are at increased risk of severe complications from respiratory infections as their immune systems and lungs adapt to accommodate the growing fetus. Influenza infection can also cause:
- Premature birth
- Low birth weight
- Birth defects
Getting a flu shot is safe during pregnancy, and it’s one of the best ways to protect yourself and your newborn. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend getting vaccinated at any stage of pregnancy.
Vaccination during pregnancy can reduce the risk of influenza infection by as much as 50% and reduce the risk of being hospitalized by an average of 40%. Plus, the baby will likely develop antibodies that protect it for up to six months after birth if you’re vaccinated while pregnant.
As we prepare for what looks to be a rough flu season, let’s recap a few basics about flu shot safety, flu symptoms, and what to do if you get sick.
Flu shots are safe and effective
The influenza vaccine is made of a small amount of deactivated virus that is introduced to the body via injection. The vaccines are made from dead viruses that cannot give you the flu. You may experience some minor side effects, including soreness at the site of injection, a mild fever, or muscle aches. The symptoms are not the flu and will clear up quickly.
Many rigorous scientific studies have shown that flu vaccination in pregnancy is not associated with increased risk of pregnancy complications such as:
For additional protection against contracting the virus, consider wearing a high-quality N95 mask, and remember all the lessons of COVID-19. Wash your hands often, minimize contact between your hands and your mouth and nose, and avoid poorly ventilated spaces with crowds.
The nasal spray vaccine flu vaccine is not recommended for pregnant women because its formulation is made from a live, weakened virus that could potentially cause flu infection.
What to do if you feel ill
Flu symptoms can mimic COVID-19 infection. Some of the most common flu symptoms include:
- Sore throat
- Muscle aches
- Stuffy or runny nose
- Vomiting and diarrhea
If you are pregnant and experiencing flu symptoms, talk with your doctor right away. Antiviral medications such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu) are generally safe to take during pregnancy and can prevent infections from getting worse.
The influenza vaccine can be safely administered at any point during pregnancy, but early in the flu season is the best time. Consider getting your vaccine in October for maximum protection. You can easily get your vaccination at your Ob/Gyn’s office without making an extra appointment.
With a rough flu season ahead, take steps to reduce the risk of severe infection. Talk with your doctor today about getting your safe, effective flu vaccine.