Two very important vaccinations to consider during pregnancy are those for the prevention of Influenza (the Flu) and Pertussis (Whooping cough).
Influenza is caused by a virus which is easily spread from person to person. Last year (2017) was a particularly bad season for the Flu. Influenza A and B viruses constantly mutate or change and to reflect this, each year the Flu vaccine has to be modified to provide the best
protection against the new varieties of the virus. It is therefore necessary to have the vaccination each year. Influenza can be a severe illness in anyone however those who are vulnerable to very serious complications include the very young, the elderly and pregnant women.
Changes during pregnancy, such as those to the immune system, heart and lungs, mean an influenza infection during pregnancy can be far more serious than usual, having the potential to be very dangerous to the mothers health, or result in premature delivery of the baby.
All pregnant women are advised to have the Flu vaccine at this time of the year as the Flu season approaches. Contrary to popular opinion, the Flu vaccine does not cause the Flu. The most common side effects are mild pain, swelling and redness at the injection site and sometimes a headache or fever which is short lived.
An important added benefit of vaccination during pregnancy is that the antibodies developed by the mother can cross the placenta and protect the baby from Flu infection for the first 4-6 months after birth.
Fortunately the Flu vaccine is very safe during pregnancy and also while breastfeeding so please contact your GP to discuss arranging your vaccination.
Whooping cough (Pertussis)
Whooping cough is a lung infection caused by a bacteria. It is being increasingly seen in our communities with significant outbreaks occurring every 3-4 years. The main symptom of the illness in most adults is a severe persistent cough and the illness is usually successfully treated. The illness, however, is more severe in young children and particularly babies. In this age group, significant respiratory complications can occur and the disease has the potential to be fatal.
Babies are unprotected until they have had their first routine vaccination at 2 months of age and will not have complete immunity until they have their subsequent vaccinations at 4 and 6 months.
Recent studies have shown that the vaccine is safe and effective during pregnancy and is now recommended from 30-32 weeks of pregnancy. It is also recommended that it be given in each pregnancy even if it has been given in previous pregnancies, as the antibodies produced by the mother will pass across the placenta to the baby and give the baby some level of protection until their first vaccination at 8 weeks of age. Timing of the vaccination at 32 weeks gestation ensures that the antibody levels transferred to the baby are high.
Another important consideration during pregnancy is ensuring close family members, grandparents and close friends who will have contact with your baby in the early months are also up to date with their vaccination for Whooping cough. The vaccine in fit and healthy adults should provide ongoing immunity for 10 years at a time.
Whooping cough vaccine can be provided by your GP or council run vaccination service.
Dr Michael Carter
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