Many of us have suffered through the flu without tragic consequences. But it is important to remember that the virus can have catastrophic complications that can result in death - especially among vulnerable populations such as pregnant women, babies, young children, the elderly, immune-compromised individuals and those with respiratory, cardiac or neurological conditions. Since 1976, flu related deaths in the U.S. have ranged between 3,000- 49,000 depending on the type of flu that is common during a particular flu season (Flu Deaths).
Pregnant women are a particularly vulnerable population due to physiological changes that occur during pregnancy. For example, immune-suppression leaves women vulnerable to the flu and its complications. Cardiovascular and respiratory changes may also increase a pregnant woman’s susceptibility to flu.
Flu shots for pregnant women, which are safe to receive during pregnancy, not only reduce the risk of complications in the woman but also for the unborn child; antibodies the mother produces in response to the vaccine can be passed on to the child after birth and before six months when babies are too young to receive the flu vaccine. This also means that any other caregivers that babies come in contact with need to be vaccinated to ensure that they are not exposed to the flu virus.
The complications that pregnant women may experience if they catch the flu include:
- Difficulty breathing
Complications for the unborn baby include:
- Risk of genetic defects (abnormalities of the brain or spinal cord) if the mother has a fever early in the pregnancy
- Risk of premature birth or miscarriage
It’s not just babies who are at risk from flu. Older children too must be vaccinated. According to the CDC as of March, 2013 during the 2012-13 flu season 105 children died from the flu. Tragically, of these 105 fatalities, 90% had not been vaccinated. In a country were many believe in the sanctity of life, it seems ironic that many choose to not get themselves and their children vaccinated. All it takes nowadays is a family trip to your local pharmacy for vaccinations.
As for the cost of the vaccine, under the Affordable Care Act, health plans in the health insurance marketplace will be required to cover flu shots. The City of Philadelphia also offers free flu shots to city residents who are not currently insured by private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid at community flu clinics, federally qualified health centers, and city health department district health centers. You can also check with your local health department. Additionally, Rite Aid Pharmacy, partnering with the text messaging service text4baby, has committed to providing a free flu shot to 10,000 women nationally who sign up for text4baby (the program provides pre- and post-natal health and nutritional information to moms directly to their cell phones).
Do the right thing; make sure your pregnant sister, wife, daughter, niece or friend has received the flu shot.
Read more about The Public's Health.