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Dr. John Park @ Carolina Conceptions

johnccwAs the weather gets colder, we are reminded that cold and flu season is well under way. Many patients currently in-cycle, waiting for their pregnancy test results, or newly pregnant, question whether or not they should have a flu shot (if they haven’t gotten one already), and the safety of taking over the counter cold/flu medications during this time.

Over-the-Counter Cold & Flu Medication Considerations for Fertility Patients and Pregnant Women

Many people self-medicate with over-the-counter (OTC) medications of some kind when they start feeling cold/flu symptoms coming on. If you are a fertility patient in-cycle (not pregnant), you can take whatever OTC products you need to. There is not any concern about these interfering with your fertility medications. We recommend Tylenol® for fever reduction. Even if you are pregnant, it is safe to take cough medication containing guaifenesin. If OTC products don’t help, or if symptoms/fever persist, see your primary care doctor or go to urgent care.

Pregnancy and the Flu (Influenza)

Flu is more likely to cause severe illness in pregnant women than in women who are not pregnant. Changes in the immune system, heart, and lungs during pregnancy make pregnant women (and women who are postpartum) more prone to severe illness from flu, which can cause hospitalizations and even death. Pregnant women with flu also have a greater chance for serious problems for their baby, such as premature labor and delivery.

The Flu Shot is Your Best Protection Against Flu

If you are a fertility patient in-cycle, or if you are pregnant, it is recommended that both you and your partner get a flu shot if you have not already gotten one.

Getting a flu shot is the first and most important step in protecting against flu. Talk to your doctor, nurse, or clinic about getting vaccinated as soon as you can. It takes about two weeks for the body to make antibodies after getting the flu vaccine. The flu shot given during pregnancy has been shown to protect both the mother and her baby (up to 6 months old) from flu. The nasal spray vaccine should NOT be given to women who are pregnant. This year, the flu vaccine is not being offered via nasal spray for the 2016-17 season. For more information on this decision, please review the CDC website.

Despite what some people think, flu vaccine cannot cause flu illness. Flu vaccines that are administered with a needle are currently made in two ways: the vaccine is made either with a) flu vaccine viruses that have been ‘inactivated’ and are therefore not infectious, or b) with no flu vaccine viruses at all (which is the case for recombinant influenza vaccine). The nasal spray flu vaccine from previous years DID contain live viruses. However, the viruses were attenuated (weakened), and therefore unable to cause flu illness.

While a flu vaccine cannot give you flu illness, there are side effects that may be associated with getting a flu shot. These side effects are mild and short-lasting, especially when compared to symptoms of bad case of flu. Some minor side effects that may occur from the flu shot are:

  • Soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given
  • Fever (low grade)
  • Aches

If these problems occur, they begin soon after vaccination and are mild and short-lived. Almost all people who receive influenza vaccine have no serious problems from it. However, on rare occasions, flu vaccination can cause serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions.

Receiving the flu shot does not provide 100% protection from the flu. If you have flu-like symptoms–even if you have already had a flu shot–call your doctor, nurse, or clinic right away.  Doctors can prescribe medicine to treat the flu and lessen the chance of serious illness. These medicines must be started as soon as possible.

If you have any or all of the following symptoms, contact your doctor or nurse immediately:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore Throat
  • Headache
  • Body aches
  • Runny or stuffy nose

Having a fever from flu, or any other infection early in pregnancy, increases the chance of having a baby with birth defects or other problems. Fever can be brought down with Tylenol® (acetaminophen), but you should still call your doctor or nurse.

If you have your baby before getting your flu shot, you still need to get vaccinated. The flu is spread from person to person. You, or others who care for your baby, may get the flu, and pass it to the baby. Babies younger than 6 months are too young to receive the vaccine, so it is important that everyone who cares for your baby get a flu vaccine, including other household members, relatives, and babysitters.