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Doctors say pregnant women should stay home to avoid swine flu

Di Bain reported this story on Thursday, July 16, 2009 12:10:49

PETER CAVE: Obstetricians are urging pregnant women to stay home and even bring forward their
maternity leave plans to avoid catching swine flu.

The deadly virus is rapidly spreading in Australia and 11 pregnant women are fighting for their
lives or in intensive care. Hospital emergency departments are struggling to keep up. In New South
Wales, paramedics are being left to care for patients on stretchers while they wait for a hospital
bed to become available.

Di Bain reports.

DI BAIN: As the number of confirmed swine flu cases in Australia marches beyond 10,000, pregnant
women are beginning to present at emergency wards.

It's understood in Victoria, the state which has had the most swine-flu-related deaths, two women
were last night fighting for their lives in intensive care units after giving birth with the virus.
And the situation in New South Wales is worse.

Jeremy McAnulty from the New South Wales Health Service, says doctors are being extra cautious when
pregnant women suffer flu-like symptoms.

JEREMY MCANULTY: My understanding is that there are five in intensive care and four on life support
in western Sydney at the moment.

DI BAIN: Are pregnant women more susceptible to swine flu?

JEREMY MCANULTY: Yeah of course it is concerning when people are in intensive care, but I guess we
have known from seasonal influenza, even before human swine flu, that influenza can be quite a
severe illness in pregnant women, particularly in second and third trimesters.

It's probably related to their immunity changes and their whole system is being overloaded by the
pregnancy and when influenza is on top of that it can have a big effect on their system and their
health.

DI BAIN: Professor Brian Trudinger from Westmead Hospital in Sydney says staff are trying to manage
two pregnant women with swine flu who are in intensive care. He says most pregnant women in general
won't get sick but they should be vigilant because swine flu is much more virulent than the normal
flu.

BRIAN TRUDINGER: It's dangerous because their pregnant, cause you imagine in pregnancy that your
body does much more work because you're pregnant in other words, things like heart output is
increased and you know, blood-flow to various organs in increased, blood-flow to the placenta is
increased, is present and so on.

So if you get a febrile illness on top of that, your body also has to do more work because of the
febrile illness sort of thing so you get one load on top of another load and so you become
particularly unwell. I mean the message obviously for somebody who is pregnant is sort of, you
know, keep away from people [laughs]. You know, send your husband off to do the shopping sort of
thing and...

DI BAIN: Stay home.

BRIAN TRUDINGER: Yeah.

DI BAIN: For the course of the winter?

BRIAN TRUDINGER: Careful... yeah that's right. It's a matter of being...we're going through a time of
troubles and so it's a matter of being careful over the whole of the winter really yeah.

It's changing behaviour patterns and trying to cut down the communication of the problem, so yes.
It's going to be short-lived, there'll be a vaccine around the corner in due course sort of thing
and so on and we'll cope better with a greater resistance in the community but for the time being
don't put yourself at risk.

DI BAIN: Ted Weaver from the Royal Australian College of Obstetricians says staying home is a good
idea, and he's even suggesting women bring forward their maternity leave.

TED WEAVER: Well I think that's true. I think that it, people should restrict travel, people should
restrict contact with others, certainly if they know of their friends or relatives who've got an
illness, a flu-like illness they should stay away from them and I think that sort of self
quarantine is quite sensible.

I think they need to be careful when they're out, I think they need to be really scrupulous with
personal hygiene, they need to make sure that they keep their bedding and whatnot well turned over
so there's clean sheets, clean linen, clean towels, wash their handkerchiefs regularly and just
adopt, you know, very scrupulous personal hygiene measures.

And I think stay away from crowded places as much as they can. That's not to say that they have to
completely quarantine themselves, but certainly I think that if they don't have to go out well I
think that's a reasonably sensible option.

DI BAIN: Would you suggest people bring forward their maternity leave, particularly if they're at
the pointy end of pregnancy?

TED WEAVER: Again I think that would, it would have to be I suppose a woman's estimation of her own
risk. I mean, if she's working for instance in a wholly public place where she has lots of contact
with different members of the public that may be a reasonable option.

DI BAIN: Yeah.

TED WEAVER: I think that would have to be taken in consultation with her employer. But I think at
the end it may be a sensible thing.

DI BAIN: However some women say that's not practical. Catherine Ramsbottom is 20 weeks pregnant and
she's caring for three young children.

CATHERINE RAMSBOTTOM: To me that's just completely impractical to say that to people. How can I
stay home for that length of time? I won't be locking myself at home to try and escape getting
swine flu. I'll be steering clear of people who are known to be ill so that they're not passing on
any germs to me as much as I can.

PETER CAVE: Expectant mother Catherine Ramsbottom, ending that report from Di Bain.