This year’s influenza outbreak has led to the deaths of two women in Wisconsin who did not get vaccinated during pregnancy, and a UW doctor is urging pregnant women who have not yet gotten a flu shot to do so. “Influenza, when it leads to hospitalizations and deaths is always tragic. But in the last two weeks in Wisconsin we have had two deaths in relatively young women, associated with pregnancy,” said Dr. Jon Tempte with the University of Wisconsin School of Public Health.
Hospitalizations due to flu are on the increase in Wisconsin and vaccination rates among young and middle-aged adults here are among the lowest in the nation, with pregnant women proving to be at high risk.
In the two reported deaths, one woman died while pregnant, the second within a couple of weeks of giving birth. Neither had been immunized against the flu, Tempte said. “This year, we’re seeing the recurrence of the pandemic strain of influenza that first made its appearance in 2009. And we know from very good studies done in England that this particular virus is very nasty when it comes to pregnancy.”
Because of that, Tempte said there’s added urgency to the message that pregnant women should get a flu shot this year. “This message also needs to go out to obstetricians and family physicians and nurse midwives who care for pregnant women, because we still see some reluctance on the part of care givers to provide the vaccine during pregnancy.” In December of 2012, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services urged providers to immunize pregnant women, noting that they are at substantially greater risk of hospitalization and death than women who are not pregnant. Tempte confirmed that influenza in pregnant women can also increase the risk of premature labor and delivery.
Tempte, who chairs the chairs the Wisconsin Council on Immunization Practices, said the vaccine is not only safe for pregnant women and their unborn children, it can also provide resistance against the flu in newborns in the first year of life.