Important news for pregnant women arrives just in time. A new study provides evidence that pregnant women who get the flu shot do not increase the risk of fetal death.
Fifty years ago U.S. heath officials began recommending that pregnant women get the flu shot after the flu pandemic took the lives of so many mothers-to-be. For many years there was concern that the flu shot could cause harm or even death to the developing fetus. This study adds another layer to the many studies done researching whether the flu vaccine and fetal harm exists.
This is the largest study dedicated to looking at the safety and benefits of flu vaccination during pregnancy. "This is the kind of information we need to provide our patients when discussing that flu vaccine is important for everyone, particularly for pregnant women," said Dr. Geeta Swamy, a researcher who studies vaccines and pregnant women at Duke University Medical Center.
Fetal deaths were rare during the study with most occurring in pregnant women who already had the flu. "Vaccination itself was not associated with increased fetal mortality and may have reduced the risk of influenza-related death during the pandemic" of 2009, said the studys team, led by Dr. Siri Haberg of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health in Oslo.
U.S. experts agree that influenza can be very dangerous in pregnant women.
The study was conducted by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. It tracked pregnancies in Norway in 2009 and 2010 during an international epidemic of a new swine flu strain. Among nearly 26,000 women vaccinated during pregnancy - usually during the second or third trimester - there were 78 fetal deaths, or three per 1,000 pregnancies.
Among about 87,000 pregnant women who were not vaccinated, there were 414 fetal deaths, or close to five per 1,000 pregnancies.
Among all women, vaccination during the study period reduced the likelihood of fetal death by 12 percent, but that difference could be due to chance, the researchers said.
The study also found that getting the flu shot while pregnant did not increase the risk of premature delivery or having a baby with low birth weight.
"We found no evidence that influenza vaccination of pregnant women increased the risk of fetal death," the researchers said. "However, influenza infection itself posed a major risk; among pregnant women who received a clinical diagnosis of influenza, the risk of fetal death nearly doubled."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months get the flu vaccine.
The study was published by the New England Journal of Medicine.
While the flu seems to be on the decline in some areas, doctors say that it is not too late to get the flu shot and recommend that everyone over the age of 6 months get one, especially pregnant women