Urgent flu warning to pregnant women as virus 'increases risk of birth defects' | The Sun

CATCHING flu in the early stages of pregnancy can increase your child's risk of life-long defects, a new study reveals.

Hungarian researchers found babies born to mums who picked up the bug are over twice as likely to suffer conditions such as cleft lip, heart defects or spina bifida.

On the back of the worrying research findings, medical experts are now urging "every mum to be" to get a flu jab.

The team analysed 10,000 pieces of research and almost 100,000 births, that in some cases getting flu during the first trimester increased the risk to an unborn baby four-fold.

Doctor Ákos Mátrai, assistant lecturer at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology of Semmelweis University, said: "First-trimester flu can have serious implications as it is the most critical period in the development of the foetus.

"Therefore, we strongly recommend that every mum-to-be get the flu vaccine, even in the planning stages of pregnancy."

The study adds to the growing body of evidence linking illnesses caught during pregnancy to complications in the womb.

The study, published in the Journal Viruses, looked at 85,855 births from women aged 20 to 45.

The results show the total risk of foetus abnormalities can increase by 50 per cent (1.5 times) on average if a mother-to-be catches the flu in the first trimester, compared to a healthy pregnancy.

In a more detailed comparison, the risk of spina bifida can increase by an average of 148 per cent (2.48 times).

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The condition happens when the spine and spinal cord don't develop properly in the womb, resulting in a gap forming in the spine.

Most people with spina bifida are able to have surgery to close the opening in the spine.

But the nervous system will usually already have been damaged, which can lead to problems such a paralysis, bowel incontinence and urinary incontinence and brain damage.

And average, the risk of developing cleft lip and palate can increase by a similar amount, also 2.48 times.

These children often struggle with feeding difficulties and may develop hearing loss and speech problems.

The third large group is heart defects which can increase by an average of 63 per cent (1.63 times).

Within this, the chance of developing aortic coarctation (narrowing of the arteries) can increase up to four times.

Studies also reported a higher risk of limb development and eye issues.

While other studiesreported a higher risk of limb development and eye anomalies.

And separate research has shown that flu during pregnancy increases your risk of miscarriage, premature birth and low birth weight.

Dr Ákos added: "Pregnancy complications caused by viral infections have been the focus of attention in recent years due to Covid-19, and there are growing concerns we might face similar pandemics in the future.

"In our study, we analysed how first-trimester influenza could affect newborns.

"The first three months are crucial as most of their organs develop."

How to avoid the flu

You can help stop yourself catching flu or spreading it to others with the following measures:

  • getting jabbed
  • regularly cleaning surfaces such as your computer keyboard, telephone and door handles to get rid of germs
  • using tissues to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze
  • putting used tissues in a bin as soon as possible

People who are pregnant are more likely to catch the flu and be hospitalised, the NHS states.

This is because pregnancy naturally suppresses your immune system, which is your body’s defense against illness.

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This suppression increases your risk of infections, including the flu.

It comes as the number of patients in hospital hit the highest levels in a decade this January, after a Christmas surge.

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