Is antiviral flu medication safe during pregnancy?

Answers from Yvonne Butler Tobah, M.D.

If you are pregnant or have given birth within the last two weeks and think you have the flu (influenza), call your health care provider right away. It's recommended that you take an antiviral medication, such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu), zanamivir (Relenza) or peramivir (Rapivab), as soon as possible. This type of medication, available by prescription, is most effective when taken within 48 hours of the first symptoms — although benefits are still possible if the medication is taken up to four to five days after symptoms start.

Also, call your doctor if you're pregnant and come into close contact with someone who has the flu. You might be prescribed an antiviral medication to reduce your risk of getting the flu.

The flu is more likely to cause severe illness in pregnant women than in women who aren't pregnant. Taking antiviral medications can prevent serious flu complications, such as pneumonia. Although it's important to be cautious with any medication during pregnancy, research suggests that the benefits outweigh the potential risks of antiviral medications to treat flu during pregnancy. Your health care provider might recommend oral oseltamivir because it has the most studies available to support its safety.

A flu shot is the best way to protect yourself and your baby from the dangers of the flu during pregnancy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a flu shot for anyone who's pregnant during flu season — typically November through January or later — unless you've had a severe reaction to a previous flu vaccination.

When you get your flu vaccine, request the flu shot and not the nasal spray vaccine. The flu shot is made from an inactivated virus, so it's safe for both mother and baby during any stage of pregnancy. The nasal spray vaccine is made from a live virus, and isn't recommended for use during pregnancy.

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Yvonne Butler Tobah, M.D.

Oct. 17, 2017