Influenza Information for Pregnant Women and Children
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It is important for pregnant women to get the flu vaccine to protect their infant in the first 6 months of life. Below are some common questions and answers regarding pregnancy and the flu vaccine. We encourage you to contact your health care provider or the Health Unit for more information.
I am pregnant. Why should I get the flu vaccine?
Getting the flu vaccine during pregnancy helps protect you as well as your baby. This is because your immune system develops antibodies to fight the flu, which can pass to your baby through the placenta. This can protect your infant for the first 6 months of life. A recent study, looking at pregnant women living in various countries, including Ontario, found that the vaccine protected pregnant women from hospitalizations related to the flu1 .
Can my baby get the flu vaccine?
The flu vaccine can only be given to children 6 months of age and older. This is why it is important for pregnant women to get the vaccine.
I did not get the flu shot when I was pregnant. What can I do?
It is important for you and all family members and visitors to get the vaccine to prevent spreading the flu to your baby.
What happens to me or my baby if we get the flu?
For some people, the virus may cause mild cold-like symptoms. However, for people, such as children and pregnant women, the virus can make them so sick that they need to go to the hospital. The flu can lead to pneumonia, fever-related seizures, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), and/or ear infections in infants and young children. The flu and pneumonia is one of the top 10 causes of death in Canada2 . It is estimated that, annually, an average of 12,200 hospitalizations and 3,500 deaths are related to influenza2 .
Can I get the flu vaccine if I am pregnant or breastfeeding?
Yes. The flu vaccine is considered safe and recommended for all pregnant women at all stages of pregnancy and mothers who are breastfeeding.
Are children at risk of developing autism or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) if they get the flu vaccine?
No. Current science does not show any link between vaccines and autism or ADHD.
Influenza (the flu): Additional Facts
What is the flu?
Influenza (the flu) is a respiratory infection caused by the influenza virus.
What are the symptoms of the flu?
After the virus enters the body, it can take 1-4 days before you may feel sick. Symptoms may include:
- Muscle aches
- Stuffy and/or runny nose
- Sore throat
- Feeling unwell
- For some children, nausea and vomiting may be present.
How is it spread?
The flu mostly spreads by breathing in contaminated air from an infected person who is sneezing, coughing, or speaking. You can also get infected by touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with your hands after touching contaminated hands, surfaces, or objects. The virus can live up to 24 to 48 hours on surfaces.
How long is it contagious?
A person with the flu may be contagious the day before symptoms begins and up to 7 days after. Children and people with a weakened immune system may be contagious for even longer.
How is the flu prevented?
For almost everyone 6 months of age or older, the best way to protect yourself is to get the flu vaccine early. It can take up to 2 weeks for the vaccine to work. You can get the vaccine from your health care provider or the pharmacy (for people older than 5 years of age).
Other ways to prevent the flu include:
- Washing your hands often for at least 15 seconds with warm water and soap. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth before you wash your hands.
- Practicing respiratory etiquette, such as coughing and/or sneezing into your elbow or tissue.
- Staying at home if sick.
- Not sharing any personal items, such as cups and water bottles.
- Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces that are often touched by others (such as door knobs, phones).
- The study, Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness in Preventing Influenza-associated Hospitalizations During Pregnancy: A MultiCounty
Retrospective Test Negative Design Study, 2010-2016, can be found in the Journal of Clinical Infectious Diseases.
- Government of Canada. (2018). Canadian immunization guide chapter on influenza and statement on seasonal influenza vaccine, 2018-2019.