This article orginally appeared in the Nov. 12, 2008, issue of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Flu shot season has arrived, and immunization is a good idea for anyone older than 6 months. According to a study published last month in the New England Journal of Medicine, unborn babies could also benefit from the flu vaccine. When moms-to-be opt for the flu shot they may get a "two-for-one benefit" — they could very well be passing the immunization's protection on to their babies.
Researchers found that women who were given the flu shot during their pregnancy reduced their infants' risk of getting the flu by more than 60 percent in the babies' first six months of life, when infants are at the greatest risk of flu complications. Plus, the shot fended off more than a third of fever-inducing respiratory illnesses in both the mothers and their babies.
Although the flu shot is recommended for pregnant women, only about 15 percent get the vaccine each year, says the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, whose researchers led the study. It involved 350 women during pregnancy and their infants 6 months after delivery.
Many moms-to-be are hesitant to get any immunization when they're expecting — and with good reason. Doctors recommend skipping most vaccines during pregnancy. But that's not the case when it comes to the flu. In fact, the flu vaccine is recommended during any stage of pregnancy. And doctors even go so far as to say that any woman who might be pregnant during flu season should get the vaccine — that's even those who are trying to conceive but aren't pregnant yet.
According to the 2008 recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, the flu vaccine during pregnancy:
— Is safe. Studies show "no adverse fetal effects and no adverse effects during infancy
or early childhood."
— Can curb flu-related problems for expectant moms, who are at higher risk of
complications from the illness.
WHAT SHOT TO GET
Pregnant women should get the flu shot made only with the inactivated virus. That means the flu nasal spray, FluMist, is out of the question since it's made with live flu virus. That's because live-virus vaccines (those containing a live organism) carry the risk that the weakened virus in the vaccine may be passed along to an unborn baby and cause illness.
The influenza vaccine is now recommended for all children 6 months and older. FluMist vaccination is approved for children as young as 2 years old.
Dr. Shahida Naseer, a pediatrician in the primary care University Pediatrics office at Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center, says her office has been giving about the same number of FluMist doses as injections this year. She expects nasal spray immunizations to far outweigh the traditional injections, once parents become more aware of FluMist.
"Kids are getting so many shots these days, I think having FluMist as an option is very welcome news for children and their parents," says Naseer, who also is an associate professor of pediatrics at St. Louis University School of Medicine. "Nasal spray is a very good option for vaccination, provided there is no chronic respiratory issue, such as asthma."
Be sure to ask your child's pediatrician about getting immunized now, to help prevent illness when flu season kicks into high gear.
Dr. Bob Wilmott is Chief of Pediatrics at Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center and is a Professor of Pediatric Medicine at St. Louis University School of Medicine. If you have a question about your child's health, "Ask Dr. Bob."