The PHA is emphasising this message, particularly as three confirmed cases of H1N1 flu have now been identified in pregnant women, in Northern Ireland.
Dr Lorraine Doherty, Assistant Director of Public Health (Health Protection), PHA said: “While there are low circulating levels of flu amongst the general population, these three cases of H1N1 confirmed in pregnant women, tells us that pregnant women could be hard hit again with flu.”
Dr Doherty continued: “Pregnant women are being offered the flu vaccine this year if they didn’t get the swine flu vaccine last year, regardless of their stage of pregnancy. It is particularly important that they take up this offer because pregnant women are more likely to have serious illness if they catch flu, especially swine flu. Last year we saw a very good uptake rate amongst pregnant women, with up to 70% receiving the vaccine, but despite efforts to encourage uptake, over the summer months the numbers have significantly decreased. It is important to note that pregnant women who did not receive the swine flu vaccine in the summer will now be in the later stages of pregnancy, the time of greatest risk. I want to stress that no matter what stage of pregnancy to get the flu vaccine now, it is better late than never.
“While swine flu is a mild illness for most people, it can be very serious. Experience in the UK and other countries suggests that pregnant women are around four times more likely to develop serious complications as a result of swine flu compared to women who are not pregnant. These complications include pneumonia and heart and lung problems and pregnant women are about 10 times more likely to become so ill they need to be admitted to hospital. Evidence of this can be seen in England, where a number of pregnant women are critically ill with H1N1”, added Dr Doherty.
The PHA reminds pregnant women that the vaccination is safe for your baby. It is licensed for use in pregnancy by the European Medicines Agency. Although pregnant women and their carers are naturally cautious about taking vaccines, there is no evidence of this type of vaccine doing any harm at all during pregnancy. Flu vaccines, including swine flu vaccines, have now been given to hundreds of thousands of pregnant women world wide and are very closely monitored.
This winter (2010/11) the influenza vaccine protects against the three strains which are predicted to be most prevalent. The H1N1 (swine flu) virus has been included as part of this year’s flu vaccine.
It takes approximately 10 days to develop protection against flu following vaccination, so if you are in an ‘at-risk’ group get the flu vaccine now, to protect yourself before the flu really arrives.
For more information about the flu vaccine for 2010/11 visit www.publichealth.hscni.net or speak to your GP/nurse or member of staff at the antenatal clinic in your local Trust.
Arrangements for surveillance of influenza are well developed across the UK. The PHA publishes the flu bulletin for Northern Ireland throughout the season. This is available on the PHA website at www.publichealth.hscni.net/publications
Notes to the editor
Who should get the flu vaccine?
• Anyone aged 65 or over.
• Children and adults who have any of the following medical conditions:
– a chronic chest condition such as asthma;
– a chronic heart condition;
– chronic liver disease;
– chronic kidney disease;
– lowered immunity due to disease or treatment such as steroids or cancer therapy;
– a chronic neurological condition such as stroke, multiple sclerosis or a condition that affects your nervous system, such as cerebral palsy.
• Pregnant women regardless of their stage of pregnancy.
• Anyone living in a residential or nursing home.
• If you are the main carer for an elderly or disabled person.
The PHA leaflet The flu vaccine and pregnancy is available at www.publichealth.hscni.net/publications/flu-vaccine-and-pregnancy
Contact the PHA press office on 028 9031 1611.