Pregnant with H1N1

Studies have shown that women who are pregnant may be more vulnerable to H1N1 due to body changes that occur during pregnancy.

Results from three new studies, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, on critically ill patients who contracted H1N1 showed that for some people H1N1 was only a mild case of the flu, while for others it was a life threatening condition that required aggressive treatments in intensive care units. The condition of the patients observed in the JAMA studies deteriorated rapidly soon after they were hospitalized.  Their symptoms progressed to respiratory failure, and shock, which led to organ dysfunction and failure. Although only a small number of people who contract H1N1 become severely ill, health authorities are nevertheless concern about an outbreak that can overwhelm the country’s intensive-care facilities. Dr. Anne Schuchat, the Center of Disease Control’s Director of Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said there was “significant flu activity in virtually all sates,” which she added was “quite unusual at this time of year.”

Dr. Schuchat expressed particular worry regarding pregnant women. A disturbingly disproportionate number of pregnant women were affected by H1N1. As of late August, over 100 pregnant women were hospitalized in intensive care units and 28 had died since the beginning of the outbreak in April. According to federal studies released late September 2009, pregnant women infected with H1N1 were four times more likely to be hospitalized and perhaps are more likely to die from H1N1. Of the 45 deaths reported between April 15 and June 16, 2009, 13% were among pregnant women. All of them had been healthy prior to contracting H1N1 and subsequently developed viral pneumonia, leading to acute respiratory distress that required them to be placed on ventilators.

It is unclear why pregnant women are more susceptible to the more severe effects of H1N1.  However, it is hypothesized that it is due to the immunological shift that occurs during pregnancy, which affects the body’s ability to fight off viruses. Symptoms of H1N1 include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Sometimes diarrhea and vomiting

Maternal fevers during the first trimester increases the risk of birth defects to the child and maternal fevers during labor has been shown to be a risk factor for the development of birth defects such as seizures and cerebral palsy. 

If a woman who is pregnant suspects that she has symptoms of the flu, it is recommended for her to go to the emergency room or contact her healthcare provider immediately.


Ted Oshman has been with The Oshman Firm since 1988 serving clients for over 25 years. Learn more about Ted's background and featured practice areas here.

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