Advice for pregnant women about swine flu

(22 Oct 2009) LEAD IN:
Governments around the world are rushing out stocks of swine flu vaccines, hoping to stop the virus from taking hold.
In the UK, where two pregnant women have died from swine flu this month, expectant mothers are among the first to be offered the newly developed vaccines, along with health workers.
But how safe is the vaccine?

New born Oscar Schipper is just days old (born 9th October 2009) and he might have been born with an inbuilt immunity against swine flu.
But he wasn’t.
That’s because although his mother Amelia Schipper was diagnosed with swine flu about half way through her pregnancy, she didn’t actually have it.
She and her husband were among many who were told to stay quarantined for fourteen days.
After tests and an agonising two week wait, Schipper discovered she had a different virus.
At the time she was relieved.
She says “it was very scary because of the fact that they (doctors) didn’t have an awful lot on it at the time and as you can imagine being pregnant it just added to that anxiety”.
But now Schipper realises that because she didn’t have the right virus, neither she, or new born Oscar, have any protection from Swine flu.
Schipper believes women can’t help but worry about the effect of antiviral drugs and she says her own experience has led her to wonder how many people are getting medicated for swine flu, regardless of whether they have it.
She was prescribed the drug Relenza, which does not pass into the bloodstream because it’s inhaled.
It’s prescribed to pregnant women because it reaches the throat and lungs and does not, doctors believe, reach significant levels in the placenta.
In Britain it’s the first option to Tamiflu, another antiviral drug which is taken in tablet form and acts throughout the body.
Amelia Schipper realises in hindsight that it shouldn’t have been prescribed Relenza, because she’s an asthmatic and it put her at risk of an attack.
Luckly she wasn’t adversely affected by the Relenza, which is also prohibited for use by people suffering chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
But neither Relenza, nor Tamiflu, would give her, and her baby immunity against the virus.
Schipper and her husband Michael are now determined to ensure they take every step to prevent their children being infected.
The UK’s national vaccine programme was finally launched at the University College Hospital (UCH) on Wednesday ( 21 October), amid a great fanfare.
Key health workers like doctors and nurses were the first to get their jabs and had to do so under the gaze of government ministers, officials and the flashes of waiting camera crews.
Patrick O’Brien is the UCH’s consultant obstetrician as well as being a spokesman for Britain’s Royal College of Obsteticians and Gynaecologists.
He’s keen for his patients and for pregnant women in general to ensure they get vaccinated.
He says if a woman has antibodies against swine flu, these will cross the placenta into her baby so it has a degree of protection against swine flu when it’s born.
That immunity will obviously continue to be transferred to the baby through breast milk.
O’Brien is mindful of the Schippers’ experience.
He says although many pregnant women think they’ve had swine flu and have received anti virals like Tamiflu and Relenza, only around 10 or 15% have “genuinely” had it.
He urges “If you think you’ve had swine flu, if you haven’t had the test to prove it, we would still advise that you have the vaccination when it becomes available.”
Australia, France, China and the US have already begun their swine flu vaccination campaigns.

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