MSNBC: Pregnant women who suspect they may have been infected by the spreading swine flu epidemic should consider prompt treatment with antiviral medications, a federal health official warned Tuesday.
So far, some 20 pregnant women have contracted the novel H1N1 virus now confirmed in more than 3,000 people in the U.S. and more than 5,200 around the world.
Some of those women have developed severe complications related to the infection, including pneumonia, dehydration and the risk of preterm labor, said Dr. Anne Schuchat, an interim deputy director with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of the three confirmed deaths in the U.S., one was a pregnant woman in Texas.
Pregnant women are generally at higher risk for complications caused by seasonal influenza, Schuchat said. Because this new virus has not been seen before and because it has generally targeted younger people, pregnant women are at more risk if they become infected.
"It's not that we think pregnant women get influenza more than other people, but that when they suffer influenza, they may have a worse time," Schuchat said.
Antiviral medications such as Tamiflu and Relenza can help lessen or avert complications, Schuchat said.
Most H1N1 flu patients do not require antiviral therapy to recover, a World Health Organization expert said on Tuesday, so saving such stockpiles for pregnant women and patients with underlying health conditions such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes may prove most prudent.
"We will recommend to consider the use of antivirals for high risk groups," said Nikki Shindo, a medical officer with the WHO's global flu program.
Although pregnant women and their doctors may be reluctant to use medications during pregnancy, Schuchat said that flu experts have concluded that the risk of complications are worse than any theoretical risk from the antiviral medications.
As of today, the U.S. has logged 3,600 probable and confirmed cases of swine flu in 46 states and Washington D.C. There have been 116 hospitalizations.
Although it remains relatively mild in the U.S., the virus is spreading so rapidly that state health officials may soon stop counting individual cases. The H1N1 virus accounted for 40 percent of flu viruses logged in the U.S. in the past week and helped propel an uptick in overall flu-like illnesses, Schuchat said in a briefing Monday.
"I think the cases we're confirming are the tip of the iceberg here," she said.
"They tell us for sure this virus is circulating throughout the United States and it's likely to be in every state," Schuchat said, adding: "It's a time when we really need to guard against complacency as we move to a new normal."
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