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The Swine Flu (H1N1) and Your Fertility

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by Rachel Lehmann-Haupt, Oct. 15, 2009

Google “swine flu and fertility” and the first few links are somewhat alarming. You might find a link to a website called Godlikeproductions.com, and a warning in big bold letters that says IMPORTANT INFO –SWINE FLU CAUSES INFERTILITY. On a blog called The Flu Case, the host writes in a conspiratorial tone that past influenza vaccines have contained “toxic” agents that were not reported to the government.

Not to fear. Even though many of us are particularly cautious and skeptical when it comes to vaccinations, especially when it is about our pregnancy or our children, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) say that there is nothing to worry about if you are trying to conceive or if you’re pregnant as long as you are not vaccinated with the live virus through a nasal spray.

“Women who are trying to get pregnant should use the injection vaccine,” says Dr. Nicole Noyes, a reproductive endocrinologist at NYU Fertility Center. Most flu shots are made from a “killed” virus and therefore pose no health risk to you during conception or to your baby if you are pregnant.

Dr. Noyes explains that while these injection vaccines are harmless, a problem could arise if a woman uses the live vaccine that is administered via a nasal spray. This vaccine is made from a weakened live virus and poses more potential side effects and dangers to women who are trying to conceive or who are pregnant. “A live virus could knock out the nascent embryo,” she explains. “A lot of these things are all or none, which means that the body knocks out the embryos as a way of protecting it from the virus.”

Even though there is a consensus among reproductive endocrinologists that injection vaccines are safe, neither the FDA nor The NIH's National Institute on Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is researching the swine flu and related treatments, are conducting research on the affects of the vaccine on fertility.

According to the ASRM, pregnant women with 2009 H1N1 influenza have higher rates of hospitalization and death than the general population. As a result, Fertility clinics should encourage patients planning pregnancy to be vaccinated for both seasonal influenza and 2009 H1N1.Women who are planning a pregnancy, and have no pre-existing medical contraindications, can receive the live vaccine (nasal spray) up to one month before conceiving, or the inactivated vaccine (the flu shot) at any time before conceiving.

Here's a statement issued by ASRM on October 18, 2009:

    2009 H1N1 influenza and Pregnant Women

    Joint Statement from the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

    Complications from influenza can cause serious illness and even death in pregnant women. Pregnant women with 2009 H1N1 influenza have higher rates of hospitalization and death than the general population. As a consequence, fertility clinics should encourage patients planning pregnancy to be vaccinated for both seasonal influenza and 2009 H1N1. For now, certain areas may have 2009 H1N1 vaccine available only for those in the initial target groups (pregnant women, caregivers of infants <6 months, healthcare workers, children and young adults age 6 months through 24 years, and people aged 25 through 64 with high risk medical conditions). Thus, women who are planning a pregnancy may need to wait for a few weeks until more vaccine is available. Women who become pregnant should receive the vaccine as soon as it is available. Pregnant women and women anticipating planning pregnancy should also get the seasonal influenza vaccine. Women who are pregnant should receive the inactivated vaccine (the flu shot), not the live vaccine (nasal spray). Women who are planning a pregnancy, and have no pre-existing medical contraindications, can receive the live vaccine (nasal spray) up to one month before conceiving, or the inactivated vaccine (the flu shot) at any time before conceiving.

    Please consult the CDC website (http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/) orwww.flu.gov for additional information about 2009 H1N1 influenza.

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    Rachel Lehmann-Haupt (www.lehmannhaupt.com) is a journalist and the author of In Her Own Sweet Time: Unexpected Adventures in Finding Love, Commitment and Motherhood.

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