With flu season and cold weather making its way to South Florida, the Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade County is urging pregnant women to get the flu vaccine to avoid complications from influenza that are on the rise.
Pregnant woman — like children and the elderly — can be especially vulnerable to the flu virus. Miami-Dade health officials decided to launch a get-the-shot campaign this year because of greater than usual influenza complications among pregnant women this season, according to Dr. Alvaro Mejia-Echeverry, a medical epidemiologist with the county health department. Broward County health department officials advised all residents, including pregnant women, to get flu vaccines as early as October.
“It’s still not too late to get vaccinated,” spokeswoman Candy Sims of the Broward health department said.
During pregnancy, changes in the immune system, heart and lungs make women more prone to severe illness from flu, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The flu also poses potential problems for the unborn child, including premature labor and delivery. Flu shots given to the mother before birth have been shown to protect newborn babies.
“This is an unusual season in that we have received more reports of pregnant women with influenza complications,” Mejia-Echeverry said.
He said he knows of two cases in December in which pregnant women in Miami-Dade were hospitalized for flu. Both pregnancies had to be terminated, and one of the women died. The cases were reported to the health department by a doctor.
“Reporting influenza is not a requirement, so we take these calls seriously,” Mejia-Echeverry said.
Flu season in Florida can start as early as October, ramps up in January, and usually ends by late February or early March.
One in five Americans get the flu each year, contributing around $10.4 billion to the nation’s healthcare costs. The CDC estimates an average of 36,000 people a year die from influenza or associated conditions. A flu vaccine reduces the odds of getting the flu by about 60 percent, according to the CDC.
But a January national report finds Floridians are less likely than Americans in any state to heed that advice.
The report, released Tuesday by the Trust for America's Health (TFAH), shows that fewer than a quarter of Florida residents aged 18 to 64 received a flu shot last year. And while the CDC recommends all Americans get vaccinated, especially children and seniors 65 and older, more than half of Americans last year did not.
“It's easy to become complacent about the flu. We're used to it, it happens every year. So much so that we forget that it is largely preventable through a quick shot — which I might add is now free to most Americans thanks to the Affordable Care Act,” said Jeffrey Levi, executive director of TFAH.
Americans can receive a flu shot without a co-payment under health plans that comply with the Affordable Care Act. Qualifying plans are available both on and off the federal health exchange.
This season’s prevalent flu strain is the H1N1 “swine flu” strain that continues to circulate since a pandemic in 2009.
“The good news is that the vaccines that are available are the very best to prevent this strain,” Mejia-Echeverry said.
Miami-Dade children up to 18 who are uninsured can get free flu shots at one of the Department of Health’s four free clinics. Call 786-845-0550 for more information.