Conflicting swine flu advice for pregnant women

The Government is offering mixed messages

The Government is offering conflicting advice about how careful pregnant women needed to be in order to guard against swine flu.
 
The NHS website has for the past 11 days been advising expectant women that they should not make non-essential journeys and should stay away from large groups of people. ‘If you are pregnant, you can reduce your risk of infection by avoiding unnecessary travel and avoiding crowds where possible,’ the site says.
 
The site says this is necessary because ‘pregnant women are more susceptible to all infections’ and are ‘especially vulnerable to swine flu, as this virus is affecting younger age groups in particular’.

During the weekend this guidance was backed by the Royal College of Midwives (RCM). ‘If [pregnant women] normally travel on the Tube or on crowded trains in rush hour they might want to leave later or earlier,’ the RCM’s Sue Macdonald said.

However, in a re-organisation of its own advice website on Sunday, the Department of Health did not reiterate this advice, as had been expected. A department source later confirmed: ‘Our advice has not changed. For the majority of pregnant women, good hand hygiene will be enough. Clearly avoiding these things would lower the risk [of swine flu], but we are not saying that pregnant women should avoid them.’

The department later released a statement saying pregnant women ‘may consider’ avoiding travel and crowds. It added: ‘But it is important you carry on your daily routine.’

Andrew Lansley, the shadow health secretary, said: ‘It is important for the Chief Medical Officer to coordinate advice with the medical associations in the middle of an escalating flu epidemic. Consistent accurate advice is very important.’

Earlier experts disagreed about whether women should attempt to become pregnant while the swine flu pandemic continues to sweep the country. The National Childbirth Trust (NCT) said that delaying pregnancy could reduce a woman’s risk of catching swine flu, or lower its severity.

Belinda Phipps, the NCT’s chief executive, said: ‘In rare cases symptoms could lead to premature labour, a miscarriage or even cause birth defects.’

However this was dismissed by doctors as ‘scaremongering’. Professor Steve Field, the chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, described the advice as a ‘completely disproportionate reaction’.

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