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Flu and pregnancy: Is antiviral medication safe?

Is antiviral flu medication safe during pregnancy?

In most cases, the benefits of antiviral flu (influenza) medication during pregnancy outweigh the risks.

During pregnancy, the flu poses a serious threat to your health and your baby's health. Pregnancy increases your risk of developing serious complications of the flu, such as pneumonia. In turn, flu complications increase the risk of preterm labor, premature birth and other pregnancy problems.

Although it's important to be cautious with any medication during pregnancy, research supports the safety of prescription antiviral medication such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza) to treat flu during pregnancy.

If you're pregnant and have signs or symptoms of the flu, contact your health care provider right away. He or she will help you decide if an antiviral medication is right for you.

If your health care provider prescribes an antiviral medication, remember that the medication is most effective when taken within 48 hours of the first signs or symptoms although benefits are still possible if the medication is taken later.

If you have a fever, your health care provider might recommend taking acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) as well. Some studies have shown an increased risk of neural tube defects serious abnormalities of the brain or spinal cord in the babies of women who experience high fevers during the first four to six weeks of pregnancy.

Remember, a flu shot is the best way to protect yourself and your baby from the dangers of the flu during pregnancy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a flu shot for anyone who's pregnant during flu season typically November through January or later unless you've had a severe reaction to a previous flu vaccination.

When you get your flu shot, be sure to request the flu shot and not the nasal spray vaccine. The flu shot is made from an inactivated virus, so it's safe for both mother and baby during any stage of pregnancy. The nasal spray vaccine is made from a live virus, which makes it less appropriate during pregnancy or while you're trying to conceive.

Updated: 5/25/2012

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