FRIDAY, Sept. 17 (HealthDay News) -- As flu season approaches, a coalition of the nation's largest public health organizations are highlighting the need for pregnant women to protect themselves and their babies by getting immunized.
"Based on expert medical opinion, we urge all pregnant women, and women who expect to become pregnant, to get their influenza immunization because the flu poses a serious risk of illness and death during pregnancy," Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes, said in a news release from the organization.
"The flu vaccine has been shown to be safe and effective," she noted. "As an added bonus, during pregnancy, mothers pass on their immunity, protecting babies until they are old enough to receive their own vaccinations."
On a cautionary note, however, experts point out that pregnant women should be sure to get the influenza shot, rather than the nasal spray vaccine option. The shot is made with a killed version of the virus, whereas the spray contains a weakened, but live, virus.
That said, the current education campaign highlights the fact that pregnancy increases the risk for sometimes fatal complications associated with the flu virus, including bacterial pneumonia and dehydration. Immune system changes that accompany pregnancy also increase the risk that a bout with the flu will require hospitalization, researchers have found.
Citing research presented in the April issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, the March of Dimes news release noted that in the United States, pregnant women constituted 5 percent of all H1N1 fatalities in 2009 despite the fact that they made up just 1 percent of the American population.
Therefore, beyond getting vaccinated, pregnant women are advised to take additional precautions. Frequent hand washing, the use of hand sanitizers, and limiting exposure to children and sick people are some of the ways pregnant
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