Fertility and pregnancy * Babies and children

Flu jab helps protect both mother and baby

Flu Babies less likely to be infected

Babies born to mothers vaccinated against flu while pregnant are less likely to be infected with the virus in the first six months of life, according to new research.

A US study involving 1,690 native American women found that babies were 41 per cent less likely to get flu, and 39 per cent less likely to be hospitalised as a result of flu-like illness, if the mother was vaccinated while pregnant.

Babies born to vaccinated mothers also had higher levels of flu virus antibodies at birth and at 2 to 3 months compared with babies born to unvaccinated women.

Flu is generally more common in older babies, aged six to 12 months, said the researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Babies born before this are usually protected by their mother's antibodies passed on to the baby across the placenta or through breastfeeding.

"However, during severe influenza seasons, morbidity and mortality rates among infants younger than 6 months have been reported to exceed those of older infants," they said.

"Although influenza vaccination is recommended for pregnant women to reduce their risk of influenza complications, these findings provide support for the added benefit of protecting infants from influenza virus infection up to six months, the period when infants are not eligible for influenza vaccination but are at highest risk of severe influenza illness," they concluded.

Last week, UK health officials announced that all pregnant women were to be offered the 'swine flu' vaccine, as the H1N1 influenza virus behind last year's pandemic is likely to be the dominant viral strain in circulation this year.

Studies conducted during the swine flu pandemic showed that pregnant women were four times more likely to be hospitalised due to the virus, and twice as likely to die from it compared with the rest of the population.

The study findings are published in the journal Archives of Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine

This article was published on Tue 5 October 2010

Image © Karen Roach - Fotolia.com

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