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A flu-stricken, pregnant obstetrician wishes she'd gotten the vaccine

October 23, 2009 |  8:57 am

Pregnant When Jennifer Lang felt the symptoms of flu coming on one afternoon, she had good reason for concern. Lang, 33, is not only pregnant, she also cares for pregnant women in her Century City medical practice.

By that evening, Lang was feverish, coughing, vomiting and considerably worried. She called a pregnant patient she had seen earlier that day and prescribed the antiviral medication Tamiflu. She then quarantined herself from her 1-year-old daughter and dispatched her husband to the all-night pharmacy to pick up her own prescription of Tamiflu.

“I’m honestly most concerned about who I might have infected,” she said via telephone from her bedroom the day after falling ill.

The experience, Lang says, also taught her a lesson. Before her illness, she was undecided on whether to get the vaccine for H1N1 influenza and was reluctant to push it on her patients.

“My personal feeling about the vaccine has changed over the past 24 hours.” she says, coughing. “Now I would take it in a heartbeat. I feel like my baby has had the flu right along with me.”

Lang and her fellow obstetricians are on the front lines of the H1N1 flu pandemic as it unfolds this winter. As reported today in the Times, only 15% of pregnant women get a seasonal flu shot, and as few as 10% of the pregnant women at highest risk, such as those with asthma, get the shot.

With the H1N1 pandemic, that has to change this year, federal health officials say. Flu can be exceptionally severe in pregnant women and can cause problems in the pregnancy. The choice for pregnant women comes down to this: Get the vaccine, which public health officials are confident is safe, or risk getting infected. If infected, pregnant women then have to decide whether to take Tamiflu, which can limit complications of the illness but for which there is scant safety data regarding its use by pregnant women.

Officials for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that pregnant women exposed to H1N1 or who become infected take Tamiflu as soon as possible, saying the benefits outweigh the risks.

Lang, an obstetrician, gynecologist and gynecological oncologist, says her illness has taught her that vaccination is the best option.

“Pregnant women are hyper-aware of everything they put in their bodies. We don’t want to expose our growing baby to something that could be dangerous. ... But here I am now taking Tamiflu, a medication that has not been tested in pregnant women.”

-- Shari Roan

Photo: A prenatal yoga class at Golden Bridge Yoga in Los Angeles. Credit:  Lori Shepler / Los Angeles Times