Pregnant women warned to protect against H1N1

Death rates in Brazil prompt calls for precautions

Kyodo News

Since more than 10 percent of the H1N1 swine flu fatalities in Brazil were pregnant women, doctors in Japan are asking expectant mothers — who have a higher risk of developing complications if infected — to wash their hands and take other precautions.

The Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology, an organization of OB-GYN doctors, is calling for pregnant women with suspected swine flu symptoms to get treatment at fever clinics and general hospitals rather than OB-GYN clinics to prevent the H1N1 virus from spreading to other expectant mothers during the epidemic.

JSOG is recommending Tamiflu and Relenza for pregnant women who catch the new flu. A guideline in the United States says the two antiviral drugs have no negative side effects on babies. The organization is also urging the government to give expectant women priority for swine flu vaccines.

The figures announced Wednesday by the Brazilian government sent shock waves around the world. Of the 557 people who died, 58 were pregnant. No such deaths have been reported so far in Japan.

The government is expected to formally place expectant mothers on the vaccine priority list in September.

“Pregnant women comprise only about 1 percent of the population but the number of deaths (among those women) is high,” Hisanori Minakami, a professor at Hokkaido University who belongs to JSOG, said during a meeting Thursday to discuss the priority list for new influenza vaccines. “I have a sense of crisis.”

Women are also concerned.

“I’m worried about the higher risk of pregnant women but I’m also worried what will happen to my newborn baby,” said a 42-year-old woman in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo, who is close to giving birth.

She wears a mask when she needs to go out and avoids crowds. “But I don’t know which department to be treated at when I am infected,” she said.

When women are pregnant, their immunity to viruses weakens, putting them at higher risk of complications. Seasonal and new flu viruses can lead to pneumonia and other diseases.

JSOG is urging pregnant women with potential flu symptoms — fever, runny nose, sore throat and cough — to call a general hospital and get treated early.

Nationwide, total swine flu deaths grew to seven Saturday when a woman in her 30s in Tatsuno, Hyogo Prefecture, died after contracting the virus, the municipal government of Himeji said the same day.

She was preceded by a female cancer patient, also from Hyogo, in her 60s, the Kagoshima Prefectural Government said.

The woman, from Makurazaki, Hyogo Prefecture, had cancer of the digestive system and a tumor that spread to her lungs after surgery, local government officials said.

She was treated with Tamiflu on Friday after being entering a hospital complaining of a sore throat, coughing and a 38-degree fever she had developed the previous day, officials said. But her condition worsened, and she died early Saturday, becoming the nation’s sixth swine flu fatality.

In Shiga Prefecture, a 5-year-old boy infected with swine flu showed signs of resistance toward Tamiflu, the prefecture said Saturday, becoming the fifth Tamiflu-resistant patient in the country.

Prefecture officials said the virus is likely to have mutated in his body.

Although the boy was given Tamiflu, he showed no signs of recovery and was admitted to a hospital, the officials said, adding he has now fully recovered from the virus.