The 2017-2018 flu season took all of us in health care by surprise. Every year we expect an influx of cases of patients with flu or flu-like symptoms, but this year those numbers have multiplied to nearly triple predicted totals.
The root of the problem? The virus that causes the flu is everywhere. It’s on shopping carts and door handles, in elevators, stores, and, of course, hospitals. It’s one of the most easily transmitted viruses from person to person without the need for intimate contact. The symptoms start out slowly and work their way up to a full-blown syndrome that includes fever, unrelenting headache or body aches, congestion, a hacking or persistent cough, lack of appetite with a decrease in the intake of food or fluids, lack of sleep and energy, and sometimes diarrhea. In total, the flu symptoms are miserable. Regardless of your symptoms, the flu can progress rapidly. This season’s flu has even caused several deaths, including kids.
Why Should We Care About the Flu?
What makes this season’s flu particularly troublesome for pregnant women is that the initial flu symptoms are often mistaken for normal symptoms of pregnancy. For example, the higher levels of progesterone often cause nasal congestion for women for weeks throughout pregnancy. Further, the increased fatigue experienced with the flu is often confused with normal bodily exhaustion women experience while pregnant. Further, women have temperature fluctuations daily so periods of having a fever may often go missed or ignored. Often the symptoms of the flu go unrecognized until the illness is all-encompassing.
How to Prevent Yourself From Getting It
Get the vaccine. As I always stress, the most powerful action a woman can take is to get the flu vaccine. Again, current evidence suggests no connection between the flu vaccine and the incidence of birth defects or miscarriage. Further, the evidence demonstrating the vast benefits of receiving the flu vaccine are compelling. The vaccine, however, needs to be given early enough in the fall to allow immunity to develop prior to the typical onset of flu season in the winter months of December through February. Additionally, the immediate family members, including parents, spouses, and any young children should also be vaccinated against the flu if they are near a pregnant woman or a woman anticipating pregnancy. A pregnant woman should distance herself from sick friends, coworkers, relatives or children as much as possible.
Wash your hands. Another useful measure is hand-washing. The proper and consistent use of hand-washing with warm, soapy water helps curtail the spread of infection. Further, people with cough, congestion or any respiratory symptoms should use a mask to prevent spreading the flu virus in the droplets of their saliva or exhalation.
Stay away from sick people. The best measure, however, is not coming in contact with people who are visibly ill or who have vague symptoms of illness. Pregnant women, or women anticipating pregnancy, should avoid crowds like shopping malls, theaters, gyms, or hospitals. Similarly, people who are sick should avoid visiting pregnant women and not visit a woman who has had a baby. Those who are sick or not feeling well, further, should avoid holding, kissing, or touching a newborn infant.
When You or Your Loved One Has the Flu Symptoms
If a pregnant woman develops flu-like symptoms, or any respiratory symptoms suggestive of an illness, she should be evaluated by her health care practitioner immediately. There are simple screening tests available to determine if a pregnant woman has the flu or not. These tests can be repeated if the initial tests are not conclusive to make a diagnosis. Early diagnosis allows early interventions and monitoring to be implemented to help prevent the spread of the illness and minimize the symptoms. It is also important that any woman experiencing flu-like symptoms not go to work, school, shopping, or other public areas to prevent the spread of the virus to others.
The Bottom Line: The Flu Is Serious.
It’s an illness that can be controlled and its effects minimized with proper care and treatment. In the modern age no woman should die from the flu, but the risk of tragic consequences, even today, exists.
Remember: Get Vaccinated. Seek treatment. Take precautions. Ask questions. Be well!