Flu turning deadly for vulnerable groups

Elderly, infants remain at high risk

Published On: Jan 19 2014 04:44:21 AM CST   Updated On: Jan 19 2014 08:22:17 AM CST
MADISON, Wis. -

State health officials have revealed that two pregnant women in southern Wisconsin have died from complications from the flu.

Dr. Anthony Callisto, medical director at St. Mary's, says everyone should get a flu shot, especially pregnant women, regardless of how far along they are.

"If the mom is healthy, baby is going to be healthy," said Dr. Callisto. "So we just want to keep the mom as healthy as possible. The flu doesn't spread to the fetus, but if mom is sick, baby is sick too."

Dr Callisto says the risk of complications from the flu among pregnant women increase in the last three months of pregnancy.

"We've had some tragedies with the flu even here in Madison," said Dr. Callisto. "We've had two pregnancy deaths here in Madison in the third trimester already."

"During that time it seems the woman's immune system is a little less responsive," continued Dr. Callisto. "So they get hit especially hard with symptoms like coughing, trouble breathing."

Dr. Callisto said this year's strain of the flu virus seems to pack a powerful cough.

"Usually the flu has very high fevers, you get chills, sweats, some people actually have rigors where they shake," explained Dr. Callisto. "This year's flu is mostly upper respiratory. In other words, cough, a productive cough."

Contrary to some concerns, Dr. Callisto said there is no evidence a flu shot or flu medications will harm the fetus. He said pregnant women experiencing flu symptoms should see their doctor immediately.

"There are antiviral medications, but it's important to see pregnant women within the first two days of the illness, because the antiviral medications we have are most effective within the first two days of illness," said Dr. Callisto.

Doctors are reminding patients that it's still not too late to get a flu shot. The season is expected to last at least through the end of February.

Dr. Callisto said infants and the elderly remain at a high risk for complications, but that this year's flu also seems to be hitting younger people as well, with an increase in high school and college-age people with normal immune systems being wiped out by the flu.

The CDC reports that at least 10 children have died nationwide from the flu just in this past week, bringing the total to 20 young deaths so far this season.

The CDC warns that the flu is widespread in 40 states now.