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Health

Pitt, UPMC call for pandemic plan for pregnant women, infants

| Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Pregnant women and newborns are at greatest risk in a flu epidemic, the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC said today.

More planning should be done to ensure this group receives treatment should an outbreak occur, raising concerns about the ability of hospitals to adequately treat this vulnerable population, scientists report in Emerging Health Threats Journal. Their report follows worldwide worries about swine flu, or H1N1.

"Although it is not clear how well modern medicine will be able to prevent devastation during a large scale infectious disease outbreak, it is widely recognized that advance planning may lessen the impact," Dr. Richard Beigi, in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC, said in a news release.

"This is especially important for pregnant women, fetuses and neonates, all of whom are left out of national level consideration."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday said that pregnant women in particular should take antiviral drugs, such as Tamiflu and Relenza, if they are infected with swine flu, despite unknown risks to the fetus. A pregnant Texas woman who had swine flu died last week and at least 20 other pregnant women have swine flu, some with severe complications, according to the CDC.

The Pitt and UPMC study was based on an Internet survey of the 12-member Council of Women's and Infants' Specialty Hospitals, a national organization of nonprofits whose member hospitals account for over 120,000 deliveries annually.

The hospitals are grappling with how to ethically ration limited medical resources when faced with too many patients and not enough medical supplies and personnel, Beigi said.

"Although 56 percent of hospitals report that they have begun to address this issue, none have any formal plan yet in place," Beigi said. "Another complicating factor is that despite the likelihood that this population will have increased susceptibility to influenza during a pandemic, little data exist on the safety of vaccines and treatments to combat infectious disease in pregnant women and newborns."

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