Pregnant women at 'high risk' for swine flu-related deaths

Myra Barrientos
Myra Barrientos
Dr. Marian Melish
Dr. Marian Melish

By Leland Kim - bio | email

HONOLULU (KHNL) - It's killed four people, and infected more than 1,400 others in Hawaii. Swine flu, or the H1N1 virus, doesn't show any signs of slowing down. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says a vaccine should be ready in the fall, and "high risk" groups will get it first.

Besides obvious groups like senior citizens and health care workers, pregnant women are now considered "high risk" when it comes to dying from swine flu. This means expectant mothers need to be even more vigilant about their health.

Myra Barrientos works as a nurse in the pediatrics ICU unit at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children. She takes care of newborn babies. It's a familiar environment for her. She's a mom, and expecting her second child in October.

"My husband and I always wanted to have a bigger family," said the Hawaii Kai resident. "My first son, he just turned two, so it's a good time. It's the right time for us to have another one."

She is going through her second pregnancy as swine flu continues to grow stronger in Hawaii.

"Actually on the mainland, most of the cities have seen a decrease in cases, but we're seeing a continual increase," said Dr. Marian Melish, a pediatric infectious disease physician at Kapiolani. "And we are now expecting particularly as school starts, we will continue to have influenza disease circulating widely in our community."

The CDC is working on a swine flu vaccine. Among the first to get it are people in "high risk" categories, like health care workers and expectant moms. Hawaii is seeing twice the number of respiratory-related hospital admissions than normal.

"I've seen symptoms range from mild flu like symptoms to severe symptoms where their respiratory status is severely affected to the point where they have to be put on ventilators or breathing machines," said Barrientos.

Pregnant women are at risk because they go through changes in their immune system.

"The lungs are also compromised as pregnancy goes on which means people cannot breathe as deeply as the baby is growing inside," said Dr. Melish.

This means pregnant women must take extra good care of themselves.

"Not only do you have yourself to take care of, you do have this unborn child that is expecting you to take good care of yourself, because you don't want anything to happen to this child," said Barrientos. "Because you've gone through several months trying to be the healthiest you can."

Staying healthy so moms can deliver healthy babies like newborn twins: Brock and Solomon Kiamahoe.

The vaccine is expected to be ready by October, so if you're pregnant, ask your doctor about it.

About six percent of people who have died from swine flu in the U.S. were pregnant women with no underlying medical conditions, although they make up only one percent of the population.