Roll up your sleeves, mom's-to-be. It's flu-shot season and new research released this week shows that babies whose mothers were vaccinated during pregnancy were less likely to get the flu or to be hospitalized with respiratory illnesses in their first six months of li fe. At risk is the baby who's born during cold and flu season when people are cloistered indoors, sneezing and coughing on one another. Infants can't be vaccinated against flu until their six-month birthday, yet young kids are at greater risk of flu-related complications.
Although babies younger than six months don't seem to come down with the flu as often as older babies, in severe flu seasons, death rates among infants younger than six months are greater than those associated with older babies. Pregnant women, experts say, should routinely opt for a flu shot.
In September, a coalition of publichealth groups including the March of Dimes, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists called for pregnant women to be vaccinated as a matter of course.
"Based on expert medical opinion, we urge all pregnant women, and women who expect to become pregnant, to get their influenza immunization because the flu poses a serious risk of illness and death during pregnancy," says Jennifer Howse, president of the March of Dimes, in a news release.
"Because they're small and their lungs are small and their immune systems are immature, they're quite vulnerable," says lead researcher Kate O'Brien, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "Very vulnerable infants don't have a good vaccination strategy."
Hopkins researchers studied 1,169 women who delivered babies during one of three influenza seasons and took blood samples from 1,160 mother-infant pairs. After crunching the numbers, they found that infants whose mothers were vaccinated had a 41% lower risk of a confirmed flu infection and a 39% reduced risk of hospitalization from flu-like illness. Blood analyses revealed that babies whose moms had gotten a flu shot had higher levels of flu antibodies at birth — and at 2 to 3 months — than babies of unvaccinated mothers.
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