The Link Between Influenza And Pregnancy

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There is a lot of fear surrounding our nation at the moment. There is a desperate race for a vaccine to end the terror from this new novel virus. This pandemic has caused distress and devastation on a global stage, but this is not the world’s first pandemic. The 1918 influenza pandemic caused the death of many. According to the Centers for Disease control,” The number of deaths was estimated to be at least 50 million worldwide with about 675,000 occuring in the United States.” Although this new virus has taken most of the attention of the media, influenza still poses a threat to pregnant women, young children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems. Unlike the current pandemic, we can prevent the spread and lessen the symptoms of influenza through vaccination.

There are several versions and strains of the influenza vaccine. While the strains are determined by the government, it is important to know the difference between the live vaccine and the inactive vaccine before receiving it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,”“All nasal spray vaccines for the 2019-2020 season will contain four influenza viruses: an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus, and two influenza B viruses.” This nasal spray vaccine carries live bacteria unlike the injection form of the vaccine. Getting the live vaccine can lead to fever and other flu-like symptoms. “Live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV) should not be administered to pregnant women. The inactivated trivalent influenza vaccine (TIV) is recommended for all women (regardless of time in pregnancy) who will be pregnant during the influenza season.” (‘Vaccines Not Recommended for Pregnant Women, Texas Children’s Hospital’) The live nasal vaccine puts a weakened but live bacteria into the body. This is more likely to put pregnant women at risk rather than prevent the virus. The nasal vaccination is not found to be as effective as the injection. In this report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it was found that out of the people who had influenza and who did not, 55% of the people who tested negative for the flu had been vaccinated previously.“Among influenza-positive participants, 37% had received the 2019-20 seasonal influenza vaccine, compared with 55% of influenza negative participants” (“Interim Estimates of 2019-20 Seasonal Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness”). The inactive vaccine is not only safe, but can keep one safe from the complications associated with Influenza.

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During pregnancy there are many things a woman cannot put into her body for the sake of keeping herself and her child safe. Vaccines such as the influenza vaccine can be miscommunicated as potentially harmful or even avoided, due to personal experience with the illness. In this study, pregnant women were asked if and under what conditions would they be vaccinated against influenza. According to the work of Vittoria et al, “Overall willingness to vaccinate was low. Nearly half of unvaccinated women (48%) stated they were unlikely or very unlikely to get vaccinated during current gestation, and an additional 39% felt neutral about vaccination during pregnancy… However, almost two thirds of women (>60%) stated their willingness to vaccinate during pregnancy would increase if they knew that vaccination during pregnancy can protect them or their new-born from severe influenza illness.” The lack of information regarding how it benefits pregnant women is leading to the decrease in vaccination by women for the majority.

The vaccine can protect a newborn baby through the mother until the baby is above six months old, when the baby can receive the inactive vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states,“Getting the flu shot and Tdap vaccine while you’re pregnant causes your body to create antibodies (proteins produced by the body to fight off diseases) and you pass on some of those antibodies to your baby. These antibodies will give your baby some short-term protection against whooping cough and the flu… for a few months after birth.” (“Top 7 Things You Need to Know”) This protection caused by the vaccine during pregnancy can help prevent neonatal influenza (newborn influenza) in the newborn baby of the vaccinated mother. It is important to protect a mother and unborn child from influenza with the vaccine because pregnant women are at a higher risk for severe complications. The CDC explains the danger of these complications,” Sinus and ear infections are examples of moderate complications from flu, while pneumonia is a serious flu complication that can result from either influenza virus infection alone or from co-infection of flu virus and bacteria. Other possible serious complications triggered by flu can include inflammation of the heart (myocarditis), brain (encephalitis) or (myositis, rhabdomyolysis) tissues, and multiple organ failure.” Preventing the virus with the vaccine can protect those at this high risk.

On the other hand, the health of an individual can override the recommendations made regarding the in influenza vaccine. If one has a severe allergy to eggs or another ingredient in the influenza vaccine, she should speak to her doctor before considering taking this vaccine. According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention,” Most flu shots and the nasal spray flu vaccine are manufactured using egg-based technology.” This amount of egg in the vaccine should not cause a severe allergic reaction but if one has had a severe reaction such as anaphylaxis, she should avoid this vaccine. In a hypothetical situation, if the inactive vaccination was unavailable, it may be safer for an expectant mother to go without and practice good hygiene rather than take the live vaccination. Another factor to consider is religious beliefs. If one practices in a religion that does not allow vaccination of its members, it may be more important to that person to remain unvaccinated.

The pandemic that has kept the nation quarantined does not have a vaccine yet but influenza can be vaccinated against. Influenza complications kill many each year and pregnant women are in the highest risk for the infection. The injection form of the vaccine cannot harm an unborn child although the nasal vaccine can. Despite the preventative qualities of this vaccine if one has a severe allergy to the vaccine, it would not be worth the risk. In a time of such vulnerability while a search for a vaccine is still in motion, it is worth protecting oneself against another life threatening illness.    


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