Thousands of pregnant women at risk from deadly flu

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One in 11 maternal deaths are as a result of flu, yet despite this more than 5,500 pregnant women in Sandwell and West Birmingham left themselves and their unborn child at risk of the deadly flu virus last year.

NHS Sandwell and West Birmingham Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) is urging all pregnant women to contact their midwife or GP to get their free flu vaccination before the flu virus starts circulating.

Statistics from Public Health England* reveal that 5,519 pregnant women in Sandwell and West Birmingham did not protect themselves or their unborn baby from the dangers of flu last winter and just 39% of pregnant women took up the offer of a free flu jab last year.

Lydia Nester, Consultant Midwife, at NHS Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals Trust, said: “I fully support the flu campaign aim of keeping our maternity patients, their unborn/newborn babies and wider family well during the winter months.

“Influenza is highly infectious and pregnant women are more likely than the general population to be hospitalised with complications. For some women their illness will be critical leading to admission to intensive care unit and we have experienced admissions to specialist centres around the country. For further information please ask your midwife.”

The flu vaccine is free for pregnant women and available throughout the winter months.

Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to severe complications of flu. During the period 2009 to 2012, one in eleven maternal deaths was due to influenza infection**

There is evidence that having flu during pregnancy may be associated with premature birth and smaller birth size and weight and that flu vaccination may reduce the likelihood of prematurity and smaller infant size at birth associated with an influenza infection during pregnancy**. In some cases, flu can lead to stillbirth or even death in the first week of life. However, getting a free flu vaccination can help prevent difficulties and keep mother and baby safe.

Dr Nick Harding, Chair at NHS Sandwell and West Birmingham CCG, said: “It’s important that all pregnant women have the flu vaccine to protect themselves and their babies. It’s safe during any stage in pregnancy, from the first few weeks through to the woman’s due date and doesn’t carry any risks for mother or baby. Women who have had the flu vaccine while pregnant also pass some protection on to their babies, which lasts for the first few months of their lives.

“During pregnancy a woman’s immune system is naturally lower to ensure that the pregnancy is successful. As a result, pregnant women are less able to fight off infections and therefore more likely to be seriously ill if they contract the flu virus. One of the most common complications of flu is bronchitis, a chest infection that can become serious and develop into pneumonia.

“Women should always get the flu vaccination every time they are pregnant as the flu virus constantly mutates and therefore the strains included in the vaccine are reviewed annually.”

Watch this video to understand why it’s so important for pregnant women to have their free flu jab:

*Source - Seasonal flu vaccine uptake in GP patients in England: winter season 2017 to 2018

** Source - Flu Plan Winter 2017/18, Public Health England -