Influenza, referred to by most people as “the flu,” is a respiratory illness that passes from person to person via droplets in the air or physical contact with contaminated surfaces. The flu produces many symptoms including fever, sore throat, runny nose, fatigue, cough, headache, nausea and vomiting. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention reports nearly 200,000 people in the United States are hospitalized annually for flu-related complications. One of the most at-risk groups for developing flu complications is pregnant women.
Heart and Lungs
Because of the increased demands on a woman’s heart and lungs during pregnancy, as well as her already vulnerable immune system, the flu can be especially detrimental to her health. As reported by the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, women in the later stages of pregnancy are more susceptible to developing heart and lung problems that require hospitalization than non-pregnant women with chronic health conditions. Even more at-risk are pregnant women with pre-existing asthma.
Not surprisingly, pregnant women with the flu are also prone to developing a secondary ear or sinus infection. Sometimes, doctors can prescribe an antibiotic to help clear the infection. Otherwise, relieving the symptoms of the infection until it goes away is all the mom-to-be can really do. Lisa Rodriguez, R.N., a writer for the Dr. Spock website, recommends at-home remedies for symptom relief. Drink plenty of fluids, use a humidifier, apply a mentholated product to your chest, use saline drops in your nose, sleep in a semi-upright position, take a warm shower and get plenty of rest.
Due to the vomiting and fever often associated with the flu, pregnant women are at an increased risk for dehydration. Dehydration occurs when fluid output is greater than fluid intake. Symptoms of dehydration include thirst, dry mouth, bright yellow urine, heart palpitations, muscle cramps and a feeling of being lightheaded or dizzy. If a doctor recognizes the signs of dehydration early enough, home rehydration may only be a matter of increasing fluid intake. However, severe dehydration usually requires hospitalization and IV rehydration. If the patient does not receive medical care to treat dehydration, severe complications can occur including kidney failure, shock, coma and electrolyte abnormalities.
To prevent contracting the flu, doctors recommend pregnant women get vaccinated for both the seasonal flu and the H1N1 virus. However, the nasal flu mist vaccine is not approved for pregnant women. Moms-to-be can decrease their risk of exposure with frequent hand washing, staying away from sick people and refraining from touching their eyes, nose and mouth. They can also minimize the spread of flu by staying home when they are sick and by covering their nose and mouth when they cough or sneeze.