The public health agency in America has warned that pregnant women are four times more likely to need hospitalisation with swine flu compared to the average person.
During mid-April to mid-June – the first two months of the swine flu scare, six pregnant women died from swine flu according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. All six women were reported to be other of general good health.
In the first month of the pandemic, 34 pregnant women were diagnosed with the disease, 11 of which needed to be hospitalised.
Denise Jamieson and her colleagues from CDC wrote in The Lancet that earlier evidence suggesting pregnant women were in a higher risk group was proving to be accurate.
The reason for this is that when women become pregnant, their immunity drops in order to reduce the chances of their body rejecting the unborn baby. In addition, later on in pregnancy the larger foetus can press on the diaphragm which can reduce lung capacity and increase the chances of contracting pneumonia.
Of the pregnant women who died, none of them received anti-viral drugs in addition to many more with the disease. The reason for this could be down to health workers worrying about what effect the drugs would have on the baby – either that or the women themselves could have been concerned about taking them.
The authors suggest this is a lethal decision, as although there is not sufficient research of the effects of anti-viral drugs on pregnant women , “the benefits of treatment with these drugs are likely to outweigh potential risks to the fetus.”
Government recommendations in Britain suggest women take Relenza, which is directly inhaled into the lungs where it’s required, therefore a lesser dose is necessary. In comparison, Tamiflu is taken in the mouth as a pill and needs to be absorbed into the body – so a larger dose is needed in order to reach the lungs.
Antiviral drugs should be taken within the first 48 hours of the appearance of symptoms in order for it to work at maximum capacity – reduced complications and shortening the life of the illness.
The authors say, “Although the decision to admit a pregnant woman is complex and might include considerations beyond simply the severity of disease, that a high proportion of influenza-related deaths in the USA have been in pregnant women is concerning.”
Due to the increased risks and vulnerability of pregnant women, they should be treated as a priority and among the first to receive a vaccine as soon as symptoms appear.