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Mums-to-be in swine flu alert after three fall ill

By Lisa Smyth

Expectant mums across Northern Ireland are being urged to get the flu vaccination after three pregnant women were diagnosed with swine flu.

The Public Health Agency (PHA) has said three cases of the H1N1 virus have been confirmed and women must ensure they are protected against the potentially lethal condition.

The call comes less than a month after health officials revealed an eight-year-old pupil at Ceara School in Lurgan died a week after she was diagnosed with swine flu.

The annual flu vaccine programme is currently being implemented to all at risk groups, including pregnant women, and protects against three strains of flu, including swine flu.

Dr Lorraine Doherty, assistant director of Public Health at the PHA, said: “While there are low circulating levels of flu amongst the general population, these three cases of H1N1 tell us that pregnant women could be hard-hit again with flu.

“Pregnant women are being offered the flu vaccine this year if they didn’t get the swine flu vaccine last year, regardless of their stage of pregnancy. It is particularly important that they take up this offer because pregnant women are more likely to have serious illness if they catch flu, especially swine flu.

“Last year we saw a very good uptake rate amongst pregnant women, with up to 70% receiving the vaccine, but despite efforts to encourage uptake, over the summer months the numbers have significantly decreased.

“It is important to note that pregnant women who did not receive the swine flu vaccine in the summer will now be in the later stages of pregnancy, the time of greatest risk. I want to stress to get the flu vaccine now, no matter what stage of pregnancy, it is |better late than never.”

Dr Doherty stressed that while swine flu is a mild illness for most people, it can be very serious.

“Experience in the UK and other countries suggests that |pregnant women are around |four times more likely to develop serious complications as a |result of swine flu compared to women who are not pregnant,” she explained.

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