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Swine Flu and Pregnancy

Sushi, swelling, and now swine flu -- the list of pregnancy worries continues to grow. While pregnant women are not more susceptible to the infamous H1N1 influenza virus, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say once pregnant women are infected, they run a higher risk of having complications. Pregnant women who get the swine flu are also four times more likely to be hospitalized than non-pregnant women, according to the federal study recently published in The Lancet medical journal. 

 "Even though chances are that most pregnant women who get the swine flu will only have mild symptoms like a fever and a cough, they still need to call their doctor as soon as they feel sick," says Denise J. Jamieson, M.D., the lead study author and a medical officer at the CDC. "To prevent more severe complications, like pneumonia, it's best to start treatment within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms."

The CDC recommends that doctors give pregnant women the antiviral drug Tamiflu immediately. "Like most drugs, we have insufficient safety information about the effect it could have on the unborn baby since we obviously can't perform clinical trials on pregnant women, but in this case, the benefits of taking the drug definitely outweigh the risks," says Dr. Jamieson.

Signs of the swine flu are similar to those of run-of-the-mill seasonal influenza: fever, cough, body aches, headaches, sore throat, chills and fatigue, though Dr. Jamieson adds that pregnant women report more cases of having shortness of breath, an already common side effect of pregnancy.

"As the uterus grows and pushes the diaphragm up, there's less room for the lungs," says Dr. Jamieson.  "Plus changes in the immune system occur that protect the fetus," affecting the body's ability to fight off illness, which can result in more severe cases of the flu.

"Pregnant women will be in the high-priority group to receive the H1N1 vaccine once it's available," says Dr. Jamieson. Until then, the best defense against the flu is still the simple rule you learned in Kindergarten: wash your hands and cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. If you're feeling flu-ish, stay home from work and alert your physician. Dr. Jamieson cautions against just showing up at your doctor's office before calling ahead. "Your healthcare provider should have a plan in place for patients experiencing flu-like symptoms so they're not sitting in the same waiting room with healthy pregnant women."

And if you've had a known exposure to someone with a suspected or confirmed case of the swine flu, Dr. Jamieson says that you should still to get in touch with your doctor to receive antiviral drugs,if appropriate, as a preventative measure.

Still, you don't need to wear a face mask to Babies R Us to complete your baby registry or avoid taking the subway.  "Live your life normally - there's no evidence that pregnant women are more likely to catch the swine flu virus, it's just that there is a greater chance they will have more severe symptoms if they do get it and it can progress more rapidly," says Dr. Jamieson. "So do what you normally do." And enjoy that belly.