MADISON, Wis. - Medical professionals around Madison say the flu virus is fast and furious this season, and they have a special warning for pregnant women this year.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, 33 people have been hospitalized so far for the flu.
This time last year, there were no recorded hospitalizations.
Among those treated in a hospital after coming down with the influenza virus, four pregnant women have been hospitalized for the flu statewide.
"We really haven't heard a whole lot about pregnant women since the swine flu, or the H1N1 of 2009," said St. Mary's hospital nurse epidemiologist Ellen Smith, "where we saw a lot of pregnant women that year as well that were high risk and really quite ill."
Smith says the early numbers are concerning, and expecting mothers are at risk, just like the elderly or young children.
"Pregnancy does put a stresser on the human body," Smith noted, "and it's important to protect yourself and protect that unborn child, so it's something that we really need to think about."
With a few mild years for the flu, Smith expects many are putting off getting a flu shot and not thinking much about the season.
She adds it takes two weeks to develop immunity after receiving the vaccine, so everyone, including pregnant women, shouldn't put it off.
"Often times pregnant women will say they don't want to put anything into their body," Smith said, "but the single most important thing that they can do to prevent influenza to themselves and to their family is to get immunized."
Some doctors say that action also protects the baby.
"Vaccinating moms during pregnancy protects not just mom, but also protects their newborns from influenza for up to six months after birth, because antibodies against the flu pass from mom to baby," UW obstetrician/gynecologist Dr. Sarah Bradley said. "This is the only effective way to prevent the flu in newborns as the vaccine can't be used in infants younger than six months."
According to UW physicians, state division of public health epidemiologist Tom Haupt said the women were admitted to hospitals in Milwaukee and Waukesha counties in southeast Wisconsin.
Haupt added that the virus could affect expectant mothers in southern Wisconsin, including Dane County.
Haupt says for the entire 2011-12 flu season, nine pregnant women were hospitalized in Wisconsin.
Smith says the other easy ways to protect yourself and others from the flu is just what mom taught you.
She says covering your coughs, washing your hands, and skipping the social gatherings when you don't feel well can go far to prevent the spread of flu this holiday season.
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