How is H1N1 influenza (swine flu) treated during pregnancy?

Updated: May 18, 2020
  • Author: Michael Stuart Bronze, MD; Chief Editor: Russell W Steele, MD  more...
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Oseltamivir and zanamivir are "Pregnancy Category C" medications, indicating that no clinical studies have been conducted to assess the safety of these medications in pregnant women.

Because of the unknown effects of influenza antiviral drugs on pregnant women and their fetuses, oseltamivir or zanamivir should be used during pregnancy only if the potential benefit justifies the potential risk to the embryo or fetus; the manufacturers' package inserts should be consulted. However, no adverse effects have been reported among women who received oseltamivir or zanamivir during pregnancy or among infants born to women who have received oseltamivir or zanamivir.

Prompt use of antiviral drugs during the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic improved survival among severely ill pregnant women. The CDC examined reports of severe flu (resulting in death or ICU admission) in 347 pregnant women during the pandemic, including 272 who were admitted to the ICU and survived and 75 who died. Severely ill postpartum women (n=15), including 9 who died, also were reported.

Of the 307 pregnant women for whom information regarding the presence of underlying medical conditions was available, half had underlying conditions such as asthma, diabetes, or hypertension. Among those who died, 86.1% received antiviral treatment with oseltamivir or zanamivir, compared with 94.8% of survivors. Time to initiate treatment from symptom onset was significantly different for women who died, compared with those who survived (P< .01). Only 4 women (7%) of those who died received an antiviral within 2 days of symptom onset, compared with 41% of survivors.

This analysis reaffirms the importance of prevention (ie, vaccination of pregnant women regardless of trimester) and prompt treatment with a neuraminidase inhibitor (ie, within 2 d of symptom onset) if influenza occurs during pregnancy. [31]

Pregnancy should not be considered a contraindication to oseltamivir or zanamivir use. Because zanamivir is an inhaled medication and has less systemic absorption, some experts prefer zanamivir over oseltamivir for use in pregnant women, when feasible. [40, 44] Others recommend that, because pregnant women may have a decreased ability to inhale zanamivir, they should be given oseltamivir.

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