Pregnant women urged to get seasonal, swine flu shots

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 1, 2009 

WASHINGTON -- U.S. health officials on Thursday renewed their call for pregnant women to get the seasonal and swine flu vaccines after new data showed that 100 pregnant women had been hospitalized with swine flu through late August and 28 of them had died from complications of the illness.

"These are really upsetting numbers," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Because of their high-risk designation, pregnant women with respiratory illnesses and flu-like symptoms should be treated with anti-viral medications in addition to receiving both flu vaccinations, which now are becoming available nationwide.

"We encourage caregivers to either vaccinate pregnant women" or send them to places where they can be vaccinated, Schuchat said.

The directive comes as most states expect widespread or regional outbreaks of the H1N1 influenza and are wrestling with an earlier-than-expected outbreak of seasonal flu.

"Most states do have quite a lot of disease right now, and that's unusual for this time of the year," Schuchat said.

The problem is compounded in some areas because some manufacturers are behind schedule in shipping the seasonal flu vaccine. The delays have kept some doctors from providing the vaccine, but pharmacies and supermarkets also are offering shots.

At Sanofi Pasteur, the nation's largest manufacturer of the seasonal vaccine, the delays are due in part to the company's efforts to produce the swine flu vaccine simultaneously.

So far, 21 states along with Washington, D.C., New York City, Chicago and the Los Angeles County areas collectively have placed orders for 600,000 doses of the H1N1 nasal spray vaccine, Schuchat said.

She said that the orders were expected to arrive next Tuesday and probably would be given first to health care workers. The injectable vaccine is expected to be available later next week. More cities and states will be ordering doses in the coming days and local health officials will decide where they'll go and who gets them.

The highly anticipated vaccine is arriving several weeks sooner than expected. That's good news for those who are spooked by deaths from the virus.

A CDC study of 77 swine flu fatalities found that bacterial pneumonia also was present in about one-third of the deaths. "The good news is the leading bacteria was streptococcus pneumonia, and we have a vaccine for that," Schuchat said.

It's recommended that adults with chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes, or chronic heart or lung diseases get the streptococcus vaccine, but only about one in five do so.

Schuchat said these people should consider getting the streptococcus vaccine when they got their seasonal and swine flu vaccinations.

Over the next week, federal health officials also are shipping 300,000 courses of Tamiflu, a liquid anti-viral medication, for states to provide to children.

Texas received 22,000 on Thursday, while Colorado got 4,600 doses. Schuchat said some of the doses would have expired dates on their labels but that the Food and Drug Administration had extended the dates after careful testing to assure that the medication was still safe and potent.

Parents who are caring for children with flu-like symptoms should watch for warning signs such as fast or difficult breathing, trouble taking liquids, difficulty waking from sleep, bluish or grayish skin and symptoms that improve and then worsen.

"These are warning signs it's really time to seek care," Schuchat said.

Adults battling flu symptoms who have severe underlying illnesses or who've been hospitalized also can greatly benefit from Tamiflu, which will shorten the illness and diminish its symptoms. Adults who could benefit from Tamiflu include pregnant women, patients with asthma, diabetes or weak immune systems and the elderly.

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