Tom Haupt, epidemiologist for the state division of public health, says he has never seen so many unvaccinated pregnant women hospitalized with the flu before the first of the year.
He said the women were admitted to hospitals in Milwaukee and Waukesha counties in southeast Wisconsin and said the virus could affect expectant mothers in southern Wisconsin, including Dane County. For the entire 2011-12 flu season, nine pregnant women were hospitalized in Wisconsin.
Dr. Sarah Bradley, an obstetrician/gynecologist and clinical assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, said unvaccinated pregnant women risk serious health complications and even death from the flu.
“During the 2009 H1N1 epidemic, pregnant women represented five percent of all deaths that occurred from the flu even though pregnant women make up only one percent of the population,” she said. “Other serious complications from the flu include bronchitis, pneumonia, and respiratory failure. Pregnant women are at increased risk of these complications because of the physiologic changes that happen to women’s bodies in pregnancy, including changes in lung function and in how the immune system works.”
Bradley added that pregnant women who catch the flu may be at risk for other complications such as pre-term labor and low birth weight. She said the vaccine will cause no harm to the fetus or the mother.
“Vaccinating moms during pregnancy protects not just mom, but also protects their newborns from influenza for up to six months after birth, because antibodies against the flu pass from mom to baby,” she said. “This is the only effective way to prevent the flu in newborns as the vaccine can’t be used in infants younger than six months.”
Bradley said pregnant women can get the flu vaccine during regularly scheduled prenatal appointments. Although the number of confirmed cases in Wisconsin seems high compared to the last two years when seasonal influenza cases were at very low levels and extremely late, UW Health physicians say this year’s overall activity is actually typical for the influenza season in Wisconsin.
University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority