Colds and flu

Updated 06 May 2016

Pregnant mothers' flu shots helps their new borns too

The rates of flu immunization among pregnant women is staggering, yet it’s so vital to optimize the health of babies

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More reasons are emerging why pregnant mothers should get a flu shot. Not only does it protect the mother, but the unborn infant as well, a new US and Canadian study suggests.

Babies born to mothers who received flu shots during their pregnancy were less likely to have lab-confirmed flu by the age of six months, a finding which doctors suggest strengthens calls to immunise pregnant women.

In a recent issue of the Journal Paediatrics, researchers at the University of Utah checked more than 245,000 records of pregnant women and 249,000 babies in Idaho and Utah, for the flu seasons between 2005 and 2014, to compare how the babies were affected by flu.

According to CBC News, out of 658 infants with laboratory-confirmed influenza, 638 cases (2.83 per 1,000) were born to women who were not immunised. In contrast, 20 (0.84 per 1,000) were born to women who said they had received a flu shot.

The lead author of the study, Dr Julie H. Shakib, an assistant professor of paediatrics at the University of Utah, said that after the 2009-10 pandemic, rates of vaccination of pregnant women went up sharply. In the 2013-14 seasons, more than 50 percent of pregnant women were vaccinated.

“Protecting young infants from influenza through maternal immunisation during pregnancy is a public health priority,” Dr Shakib and her colleagues concluded.

“We were encouraged to see the increase after the pandemic,” she said. “That’s when the public became aware of how much of a risk there was, and when obstetrics practices started delivering the vaccine as a routine part of care.”

Giving babies under 6 months old a flu vaccination does not work. Their immune systems are too immature to mount an effective response. And because of this the overall call is to encourage mothers to get vaccinated whilst pregnant to avoid serious, even deadly, consequences for their newborns. 

Read more: 

Debunking myths about flu and the flu vaccine 

Time of day may make flu shot more effective 

Where cold and flu germs hide in your home

Sources: 

NY Times.com:Top of FormBottom of Form Flu Shots Protect Babies, Too (2016). http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/05/03/flu-shots-protect-babies-too/?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=0

CMAJMedical Journal: Rates and determinants of seasonal influenza vaccination in pregnancy and association with neonatal outcomes (2016). http://www.cmaj.ca/content/186/4/E157.full.pdf+html 

 

Ask the Expert

Flu expert

Dr Heidi van Deventer completed her MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) degree in 2004 at the University of Stellenbosch.
She has additional training in ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support) and PALS (Paediatric Advanced Life Support) as well as biostatistics and epidemiology.

Dr Van Deventer is currently working as a researcher at the Desmond Tutu Tuberculosis Centre at the University of Stellenbosch.

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