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28 Pregnant Women Dead From H1N1 Swine Flu in U.S.

CDC: 'Striking' Swine Flu Severity Seen in Pregnant Women
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 1, 2009 -- H1N1 swine flu has killed 28 pregnant women in the U.S., raising the level of concern among obstetricians and CDC investigators.

The 28 women who died were among about 100 pregnant women who required intensive care because of severe H1N1 swine flu disease.

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"Doctors around the country have never seen this kind of thing before," CDC respiratory disease chief Anne Schuchat, MD, said today at a news conference. "What we are seeing is quite striking."

The CDC has never before tracked the impact of flu on pregnant women. Although flu is a known risk both to a pregnant woman and to her fetus, it's not known for sure that H1N1 swine flu is any worse.

But that's the impression doctors are getting. Schuchat said that obstetricians at the CDC are in close contact with colleagues across the country.

"The obstetric caregivers here and the ones they are speaking with have rarely seen this kind of thing in practice," Schuchat said. "It has been very unusual."

Fortunately, there's a lot pregnant women can do.

Even though pregnant women are advised to avoid many medications, the flu drug Tamiflu is safe for pregnant women -- and should be given to them at the first sign of flu symptoms.

"Antiviral medicine can be a very important treatment for pregnant women who have respiratory symptoms or influenza-like illness," Schuchat said.

Moreover, the H1N1 swine flu vaccine and the seasonal flu vaccine -- the kinds that are given as a shot, not the kind given as a nasal spray -- are safe for use during pregnancy. Obstetricians and nurse midwives are urged to play a role.

"As the vaccine becomes available in appropriate formulations, we hope pregnant women and their caregivers will be taking advantage of it," Schuchat said. "We encourage caregivers to either vaccinate pregnant women or refer them to a place they can be vaccinated."

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