Colds and flu

02 August 2018

Colds and flu during pregnancy

A cold during pregnancy will not usually affect the baby, but flu is a different matter altogether.

Good health during pregnancy is essential to the health of a baby. Women who eat well, exercise regularly and stay disease-free are less likely to have complications during pregnancy and have a better chance of giving birth to a healthy baby.

It is, however, not always possible to avoid all diseases, especially common conditions like colds and flu.

Good news is that the placenta protects the foetus by forming an immunological barrier between mother and baby. The placenta acts as a shield for the baby against bacteria, but not viruses.

Difference between colds and flu in pregnancy

It is commonly assumed that a pregnant woman’s immune system becomes weaker to keep it from attacking the foetus. This would mean that a pregnant woman becomes more susceptible to coughs, colds and flu, for example.

According to Baby Centre, an ordinary cold during pregnancy should not harm the baby or the mother's health, as the immune system can easily cope with mild illnesses. If, however, there is a fever, a pregnant woman should contact her doctor as it is important to reduce her temperature to safe levels as quickly as possible.

Flu is an entirely different matter, though, and according to a new study, it is dangerous to a pregnant woman because of an overly strong immune reaction. The data from the study suggest that an enhanced inflammatory response to influenza during pregnancy makes women sicker and increases their mortality rate. 

This was borne out by the 2009 H1N1 pandemic where, in the USA, pregnant women made up 5% of deaths, although they were only about 1% of the population. 

How to tell the difference

It may be difficult to tell the difference between a cold and the flu as both can make you feel really rotten.

Both colds and flu are viral infections, and both can affect the nose and the throat. Flu, however, is usually accompanied by a high fever, muscle aches and pains, and a dry cough, which distinguishes it from a normal cold.

How to keep colds and flu at bay

An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure, and Health24 suggests the following measures to avoid colds and the flu:

1. Get the flu vaccine (only works for flu). Having the flu shot at any stage of pregnancy is recommended by the The World Health Organization (WHO) and is entirely safe. 

2. Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly.

3. Invest in hand sanitiser.

4. Eat healthily.

5. Get enough sleep.

6. Exercise regularly.

7. Stay away from sick people.

8. Stay hydrated.

Image credit: iStock


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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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