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Oklahoma's Flu Season is Severe, Especially for Pregnant Women

If your office or school feels strangely empty these days, it might not be your imagination. News sources across the country say this year’s flu season is a particularly rough one. In fact, there are mandatory school closings in more than a half dozen schools in Oklahoma right now because of virulent flu outbreaks.

In just a typical year, the flu results in more than 200,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths in the U.S, and infects up to 20 percent of population. The Center for Disease Control says this season is the worst flu season since it implemented a flu incidence tracking system in 2005, with widespread flu found in 49 states.

According to local health officials, the flu is especially bad in Oklahoma this year, too. The Oklahoma State Department of Health reports 45 flu-associated deaths in Oklahoma and 1,429 hospitalizations so far this flu season.

Unfortunately, officials with the Oklahoma Health Department say the worst of the flu season is still to come. What can you do to avoid being bitten by the current dangerous flu bug? The CDC says get your flu shot, as soon as you can, since it’s the single best way to prevent the flu.

The organization recommends everyone older than six months receive a flu shot, particularly those who may have a high risk of a severe reaction to the illness, such as young children and pregnant women.

Getting the flu can cause serious health problems for pregnant woman. Even for generally healthy moms-to-be, changes in immune, heart and lung functions mean pregnant women who get the flu are at risk for serious complications and hospitalization and have a greater chance for serious problems, including premature labor.

According to Dr. Katie Shepherd, an OB/GYN at INTEGRIS Women’s Health Edmond, “The flu is risky for a pregnant patient due to the terrible side effects it can have. It’s dangerous because the patient can develop pneumonia, which can be very serious for her life and the life of her baby,” she says. Studies show pregnant women are seven times more likely to come down with a severe and even fatal case of the flu than women of the same age who aren’t pregnant.

Dr. Shepherd says pregnant women can get a flu shot during any trimester of their pregnancy. “The flu vaccine is definitely safe in pregnancy,” she confirms. “The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends flu vaccine at any gestational age for a pregnant woman.”

Flu shots are the best available protection for pregnant mothers – and their babies, too. When given during pregnancy, flu shots protect the mother and her baby from flu after birth. When a pregnant woman gets vaccinated during pregnancy, her baby will be born with flu antibodies that will help protect the baby from flu for several months.

This is important because babies younger than six months can’t get vaccinated yet, but they are at high risk of being hospitalized from the flu. According to the CDC, a recent study found that babies of women who got a flu vaccine during their pregnancy were about one-third less likely to get sick with the flu than babies of unvaccinated women. This protective benefit was observed for up to four months after birth.

After getting a flu shot, a pregnant mom might experience a few mild side effects. “The most common side effect is pain at the injection site,” says Dr. Shepherd. “However, there is a misconception that you can get influenza from the vaccine. This is just a myth! You definitely cannot get influenza from the flu vaccine. When you receive the vaccine, your body mounts a response which can make you feel a little under the weather, such as a headache or feeling tired, but this is not influenza,” she says.

Finally, if you are pregnant and develop flu symptoms, such as fever, cough and body aches, call your doctor right away (even if have already had a flu shot). Doctors can prescribe influenza antiviral medicine to treat the flu, which is key to shortening the illness and lessening the chance of developing serious complications. According to the CDC, antiviral drugs work best if they are started within two days of contracting the flu, so time is of the essence.

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