The recent outbreak of swine flu, or H1N1, around the world has led many people to rush to receive the H1N1 vaccine. However, the vaccine is in such short supply that even people who fall into one of the high-risk groups to get top priority in receiving the vaccine, such as pregnant women, may not have actually been able to get the vaccine. Once a person does contract the swine flu, the usual treatment is Tamiflu.
Tamiflu is an antiviral medicine that is used to treat various types of flu, including H1N1. Tamiflu is typically given to people who have been exposed to the flu but are symptom-free and those who have had flu symptoms for one to two days. Like other flu drugs, Tamiflu is not typically recommended for use to treat pregnant women, as the effects on the fetus have not been studied. However, the H1N1 outbreak has changed that outlook.
In May of 2009, one of the first three fatal cases of swine flu in the United States involved a pregnant woman. Since that time, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have declared that H1N1 poses a greater threat to pregnant women than most other groups of otherwise healthy people. This is because the mother’s immune system is suppressed a bit during pregnancy to protect the fetus.
The test to confirm H1N1 infection takes several days to return a result, and every day that a pregnant woman has swine flu increases her chances of developing possibly life-threatening complications. Because of this, doctors are urging any pregnant woman who develops flu-like symptoms while living or working in an area with a known H1N1 outbreak to immediately begin treatment with Tamiflu.
Tamiflu can be given to a pregnant woman who received the H1N1 vaccine but developed swine flu anyway. If the woman received the H1N1 shot, as is recommended for pregnant women because it does not contain the live virus, she may begin taking Tamiflu at any time. However, if she received the nasal mist H1N1 live vaccine before learning she was pregnant, she should not take Tamiflu until two weeks have passed from the date of her vaccination.
Pregnant women who have developed flu-like symptoms and may have been exposed to H1N1 should be monitored closely by their doctors while taking Tamiflu. Although Tamiflu is not an antibiotic, the entire course of Tamiflu must be taken, just like with antibiotics. If ten pills are given, the patient must take all ten as directed. Patients should not stop taking Tamiflu early for any reason other than doctor’s orders, even if they begin to feel better.
Patients, especially pregnant women, should report all unusual side effects to their doctors immediately. Known side effects of Tamiflu include skin rash, confusion, and irrational behavior. Another common side effect of Tamiflu is nausea and vomiting, which is also a common problem in pregnancy. Pregnant women who note an increase in nausea and vomiting beyond what they have been experiencing should tell their doctors immediately. A careful watch must be kept for signs of dehydration in patients with excessive vomiting while taking Tamiflu, but by working with their doctors, pregnant women can recover from swine flu with the use of Tamiflu.