The flu season poses a higher risk to women who are pregnant and infants than other groups, according to health care professionals.
They are urging all pregnant women and parents of newborns to get a flu shot as soon as possible, and also recommend that anyone who spends time near newborns, such as family members and caregivers, do the same.
“The flu can strike anyone, anytime, but pregnant women and infants are especially at risk from the flu and its complications. And flu season is a dangerous time,” according to a press release from South Los Angeles Health Projects (SLAHP), which operates 11 WIC centers.
Information about the flu is available at all WIC centers, according to SLAHP, which also noted that free flu shots are available at Los Angeles County-run flu clinics.
“We encourage all pregnant women, parents and grandparents who think they or their children might be eligible for WIC to call us,” Heidi Kent, executive director of South LA Health Projects, said.
“Some people are afraid of shots or don’t believe they will work. But immunization is safe, and shots do work,” said Lizz Romo, SLAHP’s senior immunization project coordinator.
According to Dr. Aguilar, president and CEO of UMMA Community Clinic, it’s important for pregnant women to be immunized because of the changes to their immune system, hearts and lungs, which put them at a greater risk of complications. “For example, her flu could lead to pneumonia and possibly acute respiratory distress syndrome, requiring hospitalization, or to dehydration, which can be very dangerous. Both pneumonia and dehydration can lead to death,” Aguilar said in the press release.
There’s also danger to her unborn infant. “If she has a serious case of the flu, her unborn infant could experience what we call ‘fetal distress’,” Dr. Aguilar said. This infant would more than likely be born prematurely and be underweight, compared to an infant born to a healthy mother.”
There is no flu vaccine available for infants younger than six-months old. A newborn’s immune system is not very strong, so catching the flu can be very dangerous. “The infant could suffer complications such as severe respiratory illness, dehydration or febrile seizures, making hospitalization necessary,” Dr. Aguilar said. He recommends that all infants 6 months and older, children and adults be immunized.
He noted that people who have been exposed to the flu but are not aware of it could still spread the flu to be people who are at greater risk, including seniors, infants and women who are pregnant.
The flu-related death of a Los Angeles woman has already been reported for the 2013-2014 flu season.
During the holiday season, people are more likely to be around large numbers of people, such as shopping malls, parties and church services, being immunized will protect them.
Flu shots can be obtained at a doctor’s office, medical clinic, pharmacies and flu clinics. Free flu shots are still available at a few county-run flu clinics, phone 211 for dates and locations.