​In pregnant women, flu symptoms - runny nose, fever, cough, sore throat, body aches and tiredness - may persist up to three times longer than in non-pregnant women.

Most importantly, the flu can also lead to serious complications for the mother and baby, especially when it is accompanied by high fever.

Why is the flu more dangerous in pregnant women?

“The influenza virus itself has not been shown to cause birth defects. However, having a high fever during the first trimester may increase the chance for birth defects such as spina bifida. In the second and third trimester, it may impair the growth of the foetus,” says Associate Professor Tan Thiam Chye, Head and Senior Consultant, Inpatient Service, Division of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), a member of the SingHealth group.

A pregnant woman has lower immunity as a way of preventing the foetus from being rejected. Thus, she’s more susceptible to flu complications. Pre-existing illnesses, such as diabetes, asthma or heart disease, further increase this risk.

Potential complications arising from flu during pregnancy

Pneumonia is the most common complication that can arise from flu. If the virus spreads to the brain, it can lead to an inflammation of the delicate brain structures, causing encephalitis or meningitis (brain infection).

Pregnancy also affects a woman’s heart and lungs, particularly at the later stages. As the baby grows, the womb expands and presses against the mother’s lungs. This can make breathing more taxing, and more so if she catches the flu.

Flu may also lead to the inflammation of the lungs, known as bronchitis, as well as the inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis).

In the absence of early treatment, a fever higher than 38.5 deg C has been linked to a higher risk of:

  • premature birth (pre-term labour) and
  • miscarriage.

“It is thus critical for expectant women to seek treatment early,” adds A/Prof Tan Thiam Chye.

How to treat the flu and fever during pregnancy

If you suspect you have the flu, see a doctor within 48 hours to determine if your symptoms stem from the flu virus or other infections. If it is indeed the flu, the doctor will prescribe you pregnancy-safe medication. It’s best not to self-medicate, as it could delay proper diagnosis and treatment.

Read on to learn how you can prevent catching the flu during pregnancy.

Ref: Q15