By Robert Preidt
Australian researchers examined nearly 58,000 births to mothers in the western part of the country during the 2012 and 2013 flu seasons. More than 5,000 births were to women who received a flu shot during pregnancy.
Women who received the flu vaccine had a 51 percent lower risk of stillbirth than those who did not receive the vaccine, the study found.
The researchers also found that stillbirth rates rose after flu season and fell in the months prior to flu season, but said these seasonal differences were not statistically significant.
The study was published March 31 in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.
"During the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, we saw a similar reduction in stillbirths following vaccination," study author Annette Regan, of the Western Australia Department of Health, said in a journal news release.
"Our results are particularly exciting since they show we can get the same protection during seasonal epidemics, which occur every winter. Unfortunately, we know that about 40 percent of pregnant women go unvaccinated, missing out on these benefits," she added.
Further research is needed to confirm the possible association between stillbirth, seasonal flu and flu vaccination, according to the study authors. But the researchers said they are hopeful that expectant mothers and their health care providers will take note of these findings.
"I'm hoping results like these can convince more pregnant women to get vaccinated each year," Regan said.
Everyone 6 months of age and older, including pregnant women during any trimester, should get an annual flu shot, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Pregnant women are at increased risk of serious flu-related complications, and having the flu during pregnancy has been linked to fetal death and premature birth. However, many pregnant women don't get a flu shot because of concerns for the safety of the fetus.
There are more than 3 million stillbirths worldwide each year. If a link between flu season and stillbirth is found, it could have a major impact on infant deaths, according to the study authors.