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Getting Sick With The Flu While Pregnant Can Increase Birth Defects Risk

Getting Sick With The Flu While Pregnant Can Increase Birth Defects RiskWomen who become sick with the flu early in pregnancy are twice as likely to have a baby with a serious birth defect of the brain, spine, or heart, than women who don't catch the virus, March of Dimes, leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health in USA, reported on Wednesday.

It's unclear whether it's the high fever associated with the flu, or the flu itself that contributes to the increased risk of birth defects, experts say. But reducing the risk of birth defects is one reason why all pregnant women and women thinking of having a baby should get an annual flu shot.

"The annual flu shot should be a priority in prenatal care," said Edward R.B. McCabe, MD, March of Dimes chief medical officer. "Health care providers should offer all their pregnant patients a flu shot each year and if they don't offer it, then women should ask for it."

Pregnant women and those planning to become pregnant need a flu shot because the normal changes to a pregnant woman's immune system, heart and lungs put her at increased risk of the harmful effects of flu infection, Dr. McCabe says. Also, babies born to mothers who got their flu shots while pregnant are protected from serious illness from influenza during their first six months of life. Immunized women also have a lower risk of flu-related hospitalizations for chronic asthma, heart conditions, diabetes, a weakened immune system, and other health-related problems.

Studies that looked at thousands of pregnant women who received the seasonal flu vaccine have shown that immunized moms do not have a higher risk of preterm babies or babies with birth defects than unimmunized women. Researchers also found that immunized women are less likely to experience a stillbirth.

The CDC recommends that everyone six months of age or older, including pregnant women, be vaccinated annually against the influenza virus.

Pregnant women who develop influenza infection symptoms, such as sudden onset fever, muscle aches, and cough should contact their health providers as soon as possible to begin an anti-viral treatment.
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