Caring For Pregnant Women With H1N1 Flu Virus
Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq and Chief Public Health Officer Dr. David Butler-Jones released guidelines for health professionals on caring for pregnant women with H1N1 flu virus.
"Thankfully the majority of H1N1 illness in Canada is mild, but we are seeing that some people, including pregnant women, are more susceptible to serious illness and complications," said Minister Aglukkaq. "To help protect mothers and their babies, experts at the Public Health Agency of Canada have worked with their provincial and territorial partners to develop clinical care guidelines that will help healthcare professionals treat pregnant women more effectively."
The H1N1 flu virus has now been reported in every province and territory in Canada and appears to be spreading similarly to seasonal flu. While pregnant women are at no greater risk of becoming infected with H1N1 virus, preliminary research shows that they are more likely to suffer severe illness and complications if they catch the virus.
In addition to the guidelines for health care professionals, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has also developed a factsheet for expectant mothers. This factsheet offers advice on how to prevent infection, and when to seek medical care. This factsheet will be available online and distributed through community and health organizations used by pregnant women.
"We understand that pregnant women might be nervous about how H1N1 flu virus might affect their health and the health of their babies," said Dr. Butler-Jones, "That’s why we want to help inform them of the precautions they should take to help maintain their health, like practising basic infection control, avoiding large crowds, and seeking medical attention if they begin to exhibit symptoms."
Canada has a National Antiviral Stockpile which includes 55 million doses of both oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza). Both drugs are effective in treating H1N1 virus, and both are safe for pregnant women. Recent scientific evidence suggests Tamiflu may be more effective. The Government of Canada also maintains the National Emergency Stockpile System, which provides a surge capacity of medical equipment and supplies to support provinces and territories during public health crises. PHAC is currently negotiating the purchase of 370 additional ventilators and has secured the purchase of 1.9 million N-95 masks to bolster the existing stockpile and to increase the Government of Canada’s capacity to support provinces and territories.
PHAC is also focusing on how to prevent complications from the flu by learning more about how and why the virus rapidly escalates to severe illness in some individuals. PHAC’s National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) is involved in organizing and coordinating a national study of severe cases of H1N1 flu virus. The NML will partner with intensive care units across the country to try and answer the important questions of how and why severe illness affects some patients with H1N1 flu virus. Samples are already being collected for the study. Results will be published in medical journals when research is completed.