Moms-to-be need flu shots

Pregnant women have been added to the list of high-risk people for whom a flu shot is recommended this year.

"Research has shown that pregnant women are more likely to develop complications from influenza, such as pneumonia, than young adults in the same age group," notes W. Paul Glezen, MD, an epidemiologist at the Influenza Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine, and an attending physician at Houston’s Ben Taub General Hospital.

"The risk is 4.5 times greater in the last three months of pregnancy."

The vaccine is recommended for women who will be in the second or third trimester of pregnancy during flu season, which typically runs from November through March in the U.S.

Others at risk for possible fatal complications of the flu include:

• People who are 65 or older;

• People with heart disease;

• People with diabetes, kidney failure, AIDS, cancer or other chronic diseases that have required regular medical visits or hospitalization during the past year;

• People with chronic lung disease, including asthma and bronchitis;

• Children and teenagers on long-term aspirin therapy, which could put them at risk for Reye’s syndrome after getting the flu.

Glezen recommends that people at high risk get their flu shots as soon as possible.

This year’s vaccine provides protection against the three strains of flu virus expected to dominate the 1998-99 season: A/Beijing (H1N1), A/Sydney (H3N2,) and B/Harbin.

The vaccine is about 85% effective in helping people avoid influenza, which kills thousands of people every year, most of them elderly.

"People shouldn’t worry about getting the flu from a flu shot," Glezen notes. "That’s not possible, because the vaccine isn’t made from a live virus."

Flu shots significantly lower the risk of hospitalization for influenza and pneumonia in people 65 or older, adds Glezen.

"But healthy adults and children can also benefit from the vaccine by sparing themselves the misery of flu symptoms."

Flu shots are also recommended for healthcare workers and others likely to have contact with the high-risk groups.