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Nearly one tenth of recent maternal deaths due to flu

Nearly one tenth of maternal deaths from 2006-12 were due to flu, and more than half of these could have been prevented with a flu jab, according to a report released today.

The report, Saving Lives, Improving Mothers' Care, found that one-in-11 deaths (9.09%) in that timeframe were due to flu.

“To avoid preventable deaths, the benefits of influenza vaccination to pregnant women should be promoted and pregnant women at any stage of pregnancy should be offered vaccination against seasonal and pandemic flu with inactivated vaccine,” the report from MBRRACE-UK - a maternal research unit based at Oxford University - recommended.

“The compelling message for the future has to be the importance of continuing the programme of vaccination against influenza in pregnancy in the UK and Ireland, working to maximise uptake and hence to ensure we prevent future influenza-related maternal deaths,” it read.

However, there has been an overall decline in maternal deaths since 1985, as in 1985-87 there were 139 maternal deaths, compared to 83 in 2009-11.

Two thirds of mothers died from medical and mental health problems in pregnancy and only one third from direct complications of pregnancy such as bleeding. Three quarters of women who died had medical or mental health problems before they became pregnant.

Since 2009, a large number of developed countries introduced routine flu vaccine programmes for pregnant women. There are no reported safety issues or common serious side effects relating to flu vaccination and the pregnancy or the baby, according to the latest Public Health England information.

The flu vaccine needs to be given during the winter season and will need to be repeated each flu season that the woman is pregnant, due to possible changes in the virus.  

Another key point from the report was that maternal suicides remain a “major cause for concern” according to the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), and many could be prevented.

Responding to the report, Carmel Bagness, professional lead for midwifery and women's health at the RCN said: “There is clearly more work to be done to enhance the mental wellbeing of new mothers and all health care professionals need to be aware of the warning signs which might indicate a mental health issue, and should regularly ask parents about their mental health.”