Pregnant women who get the flu at risk for complications from its respiratory effects

Pregnant women may already feel uncomfortable trying to breathe, and a D.C. doctor who wants everyone to get vaccinated warns that getting sick with flu poses higher risk for complications.

“One of the biggest concerns with pregnant women who get the flu is the respiratory component of the flu,” said Dr. Tamika Auguste, the ob/gyn chair at MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

“We have seen and we know that the pregnant women who get the flu are at risk for higher complications from the respiratory effects of the flu. They tend to get a little bit sicker,” she said. “So a great way to protect yourselves is using the flu vaccine.”

Women with a growing uterus in their abdomens may sometimes have a decreased ability to expand their lungs.

“Women who have the flu might find that they have more difficulty taking deeper breaths, difficulty passing air, their oxygen saturations might be a little bit lower than if they weren’t pregnant; and their ability to fight off the virus might be compromised because of their pregnant state,” she said.

Oxygen saturation in a woman’s blood will directly affect how much oxygen the fetus gets.

“So again, we want high oxygen saturations for the woman, so that the fetus can be well- oxygenated as well,” she said.

While emphasizing that the flu vaccine is recommended and safe in pregnancy at all stages in pregnancy and that every pregnant woman should receive it, Auguste said expectant women who question whether they should get a flu shot need to discuss it with their caregivers.

“Don’t be shy, bring it up. Don’t be ashamed of what your concerns are. The patients very often are not the medical professional. That’s our job. Let me answer the questions that you have around the safety of the flu vaccine. And then hopefully, together, we make a decision where you feel comfortable as a pregnant woman in getting the flu vaccine,” she said.

Auguste said getting a flu shot is important at any time, even as the holidays draw near.

“We will have gatherings; we will see more people. There’s a higher incidence of spread usually around this time for the flu, and it’s because of those large gatherings around the holidays,” she said. “This is the perfect time. Get the flu vaccine now and protect yourself through the holidays.”

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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