Oct 02, 2014 2:00 PM

Author: Office of Public Affairs


If you’re pregnant, you should be extra cautious about avoiding the flu. It makes pregnant women sicker than it does other healthy adults, and a recent study attempted to understand why.

The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that pregnancy heightens the body’s immune response to the flu. Researchers collected immune cells from 21 pregnant women and 29 healthy, nonpregnant women and exposed the cells to flu viruses. The cells from the pregnant women produced more molecules that attract other immune cells to fight the infection.

"We now understand that severe influenza in pregnancy is a hyperinflammatory disease rather than a state of immunodeficiency,” the study’s senior author, Catherine Blish, MD, PhD, said in a release.

A heightened immune response may seem like a good thing, but too many immune cells can be detrimental to pregnant women. For instance, "That's a bad thing in a lung where you need air space," Blish says. These findings help explain why pregnant women who contract the flu experience symptoms that are more severe, are more likely to develop pneumonia and have a higher risk of dying due to complications.

“The pregnant body is a prime ground for the replication of the flu virus,” says Brandon L. Reynolds, DO, an adjunct instructor in the University of Utah Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Reynolds offers these important tips for avoiding the flu while pregnant:

  • Get a flu vaccination–this is a must. Be sure you are getting the current version of the vaccine.
  • Avoid sick people, even if it is instinctual to want to care for someone who is sick. Care for yourself and your growing baby first.
  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Use hand sanitizer when washing isn’t an option.

Reynolds also encourages people who are sick with the flu to be considerate and stay home to avoid exposing others.

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