Pregnancy and Flu Pandemics

Lisa Krieger writes for Mercury News, quoting Dr. Steven Parodi, regional chief of infectious disease with Kaiser Permanente:

Although pregnant women have many of the same initial virus symptoms as other people, they face greater odds of complications, Parodi said.

"During pregnancy, the immune system has different components. A pregnant woman's immune system shifts away from the ability to fight off viruses and shifts more toward fighting bacteria," Parodi said. "It puts them at higher risk of viral influenza."

The growth of the baby compresses a woman's lungs, so her breathing capacity is reduced. "With less lung capacity, you're more likely to get sick," he said. "And if you get an infection, it's harder to clear."

Flu seems to also increase the risk of delivery complications, such as spontaneous abortion and preterm birth, especially among women with pneumonia.

Additionally, it poses problems for the baby, if the woman has high fever. Studies show that maternal fever during the first trimester doubles the risk of neural tube defects and other birth defects. Maternal fever during labor is a risk factor for seizures, encephalopathy, cerebral palsy and infant death. Doctors recommend treatment with acetaminophen to reduce a pregnant woman's fever.

In England, initial hysteria over infection caused the nation's Department of Health to advise women to consider delaying conception until the pandemic passed. The Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists also advised pregnant women to avoid rush hour, stay indoors and restrict the movement of other children so the virus didn't get brought home. But both groups have since softened their stance.

Pregnant women should feel free to work, play and do other normal activities, Parodi said.

"Pregnant women should avoid people who are coughing or actively ill," he said. "And if we're ill, we should protect them, by not going to work. It's a way we can all help."

An elevated number of influenza-associated deaths among pregnant women were reported during the pandemics of 1918-1919 and 1957-1958. In a study of 1,350 women who had flu during the 1918 pandemic, about half the women got pneumonia and about half of the women with pneumonia died — a case-fatality rate of 27 percent. During the 1957 flu pandemic, pregnant women accounted for half of the flu deaths in a study of Minnesota women of reproductive age.

I wonder if the Vatican (or even Lutherans) would consider this current pandemic a "serious" and "grave" reason to avoid conception.


Anonymous said...

I don't see why! What's with the fear? This Lutheran, due in the midst of flu season, thinks this is absolutely ridiculous! Not just this fearful post, but this whole "swine flu pandemic" idea. Continue to practice good hygiene, eat healthfully of the bounties God provides for us, pray and trust.

Kelly said...

Flu vaccines have never been effective. Now the government wants pregnant women to be first in line to receive injections of unknown and untested adjuvants into their systems. Makes you wonder if protection truly is their rationale...

In any case, influenza deaths are caused mostly by secondary infections as opposed to the virus itself, so the best protection is a healthy immune system - probiotics and vitamin D for everybody!

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...


Please let me clarify that my intent in posting this was not to express or to instill fear. This blog is for the expressed purpose of fleshing out questions such as this. News stories about the dangers of this pandemic virus to the pregnant and unborn have been headlined in recent days, and this one suggested that the concerns could warrant delaying conception.

The Roman Catholic doctrine would seem to imply that such a pandemic could be considered to be a valid reason, as far as I understand it. I was wondering what my fellow Confessional Lutherans think about this.

I appreciate your position. In fact, I agree that this is not a valid reason to contracept.

Thanks for your comment!

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...


Good points. I am not comfortable with the vaccine plan either.

I would add that hygiene and social distancing are probably the most effective preventive measures one can take in the face of a pandemic. It is possible that those with the healthiest immune systems could be at the highest risk of death if this virus is anything like the 1918 H1N1 flu virus. Sun exposure (and the associated vitamin D levels you mention) have also been indicated as having been somewhat protective in previous pandemics.

Obviously, it is of vital importance for those who are pregnant to take practicable precautions due to the increased risks for mother and baby.

Anonymous said...

I should have clarified... I was so shocked by the fear-mongering that I couldn't type straight =)

I know that you were quoting someone else - I've read this blog for awhile now and know that wasn't your take on things. I've also been reading all these headline stories of this world-ending flu pandemic and how pregnant women and their defenseless residents should be the guinea pigs for the new vaccine (and it's mercury content). I just can't believe our reproduction-hating society is going this far as to try and scare off pregnancies with this rumored epidemic.

And I'm not trying to hide behind the Anonymous label. My apologies for that, but we haven't been able to share news of our pregnancy with all of our family yet - we didn't want it to get back to them via the small, small world that Lutheranism is =) I'm a big fan of the blog - as I said above, I've been reading here for awhile now and will continue. I meant to explain this yesterday and just forgot!

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...


I fully understand. God bless and keep you and your baby through this pregnancy, bringing your child safely to the saving waters of Holy Baptism.