In this article, I will discuss the topic of the flu vaccination. As winter draws ever closer many pregnant ladies will be offered the flu vaccination free on the NHS. It is of course your personal decision whether you wish to have this or not along with any other immunisations.
This article lets draw upon the facts available to allow you make an informed decision about whether to have the vaccination or not.
Risks of having flu whilst pregnant
Flu can affect anyone, any age and any level of health. Pregnant women and their unborn children are at an increased risk of complications from having flu. Whilst pregnant your immune system is much lower – you have probably already figured that out by the constant runny nose. This is so that you body doesn’t reject your unborn child.
Flu is a highly infectious disease which occurs annually and most commonly during winter season (hence its nickname seasonal flu). The symptoms of flu come on very quickly whereas a cold is more gradual (i.e. sore throat and runny nose). Flu is caused by the influenza viruses (colds are caused by bacteria) that affects the respiratory system (your windpipe and lungs), because flu is a virus anti-biotics will not work.
Most common symptoms of flu:
- Fever (high temperatures)
- Aches and pains in your joints and muscles
- Lethargic (more tired than normal)
As you can see most of these symptoms are also typical pregnancy symptoms. Healthy individuals who contract the flu virus usually recover within a week or so but for a small percentage of the population flu can lead to hospitalisation, disability or even death.
Benefits of the flu vaccine:
- Reduced risk of miscarriage, pre-term birth
- Low birth weight
- Reduced chance of passing the flu to your unborn child
- Reduced risk of complication such as pneumonia
- Helps to provide immune system protection to your baby in the first few months after birth.
The flu vaccine
Vaccines are designed to help the immune system to recognise and fight certain types of viruses, bacteria and other pathogens.
The vaccine itself can be inactivated or live attenuated depending on the recommendations provided to the manufacturer from the World Health Organisation (WHO). Types of vaccinations:
- Inactivated – inactive virus present. The virus particles, bacteria or other pathogens have been grown and then killed with heat or chemicals. Examples include, Hepatitis A, polio, diphtheria and tetanus. These vaccines are safer as it is a lower risk of the pathogen mutating back into its disease. Since the bacteria is dead it is not an accurate copy of the live version therefore it often requires multiple booster shots to help train the body’s immune system to defend itself.
- Live attenuated – live small dosage of the virus present. There is a small amount of live pathogen which has been altered to become harmless or less viral. The purpose is to the immune system learn to recognize the antigens to be able to fight it should contact be made in the future. Examples of live vaccinations includes the MMR, smallpox and yellow fever. Advantages: These types of vaccinations can offer lifelong protection when the full programme has been completed. These vaccinations cannot be given to persons with an already weakened immune system (chemotherapy, HIV) as the risk of the pathogen become stronger and been more harmful increases.Pregnant women are advised to have the inactivated vaccination.
The flu vaccination is classed as an inactivated vaccine. Therefore when you have the vaccination you do not get a live version of the virus. So it is a myth that getting the vaccination gives you flu.
Risk of preterm labour?
There are some concerns that the flu vaccination causes preterm labour / birth however, studies in Canada have discovered that the flu vaccination can actually reduce the risk. “women who are vaccinated are 25% less likely to have a premature birth and 27% less likely to have low-birth weight baby.” (Oxford Vaccine Group, 2014).
Possible side effects
Like with all immunisations there a rare possibility of developing an allergic reaction. If you had one in the past after the flu vaccine it is recommended not to have it this year.
The most common types of side effects are a sore arm for a couple of days and sometimes (not always) feeling a little achy and muscle fatigue.
Personally, I am going to get this because I had a nasty chest infection at the beginning of pregnancy and dread to think what I’d be like with the flu. I have also had the flu in the past and when it says a week to recover its more like 3-4 and only if you have proper bed rest for a week. When people tell you their dying of flu and say this whilst seated at their desk at work you know it’s probably just a bad cold. The flu proper knocks you off your feet. When I had it I was cold and hot at the same time so I dressed for feeling cold (hot water bottle as well) hoping to sweat it out. You have literally no energy and simple tasks like opening to door to the postman is such a chore. You really don’t have much energy to even get up for the toilet even though you know you need to go!
Either way it is up to you whether you opt to get this vaccination but whatever you decision you should always maintain a high level of personal hygiene and throughly wash your hands before and after preparing meals.