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H1N1 and Pregnancy: What You Need to Know

Katie Flyte, was six months pregnant when she came down with the flu, but it wasn't caught for six days after three tests failed to detect it. Flyte has since gave birth to her baby without knowing it. Now in a drug-induced coma, Flyte is still battling the virus. And she's not the only woman who's faced H1N1 while pregnant.

Flyte is just one of the more than 30 reported nationwide cases of H1N1 virus among pregnant women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Six of those women have died.

So how can pregnant women protect themselves -- and their fetuses -- from H1N1?

CBS News medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton, who is an obstetrician/gynecologist, pointed out on "The Early Show" Thursday that women who are pregnant are more susceptible to getting the flu.

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Pregnancy suppresses the immune system, Ashton explained. That means any pregnant woman at any stage of pregnancy is more susceptible to infection, both bacterial and viral.

Influenza, Ashton said, becomes deadly during pregnancy because, when a woman's lungs are infected, especially in the later stages of pregnancy, the enlarged uterus presses on the diaphragm and makes it harder for the woman to breathe.

If the lung infection transforms into a bacterial infection, she said, it can infect the whole body.

"(Then) you have a critical situation affecting two lives," Ashton said.

If you are pregnant and you think you may have flu-like symptoms, Ashton citing the CDC, said you shouldn't delay seeking treatment with drugs such as Tamiflu or Relenza while test results are being processed.

"We treat it as if a person has H1N1," Ashton said. "The risks of not treating are significant enough that you really want to go to the benefit of anti-viral medication. Even though the virus does not cross the placenta per se and affect the baby, make no mistake about it, if the mother becomes critically ill, so will the baby."

As for making sure pregnant women don't become exposed to H1N1, Ashton said women should steer clear of people who are sick. She also suggested women get the regular flu vaccine. And, if an H1N1 vaccine is released, she said, pregnant women should get them both.

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