Study finds link between swine flu and stillbirth

London: Women who contracted the swine flu virus while pregnant are at much greater risk of a stillbirth or have babies with birth defects, a new study has claimed, reinforcing the message that all pregnant women should get immunised against flu.

The study, carried out by researchers from the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit at Oxford University, examined the cases of every pregnant woman in the UK who was admitted to hospital while suffering from flu.

In 256 mothers infected with the H1N1 flu virus between September 2009 and January 2010, seven of the babies were stillborn and three died shortly after birth, it found.

That is the equivalent of 39 babies in 1,000 dying, before or shortly after birth, compared to 7 in 1,000 in mothers not infected with the virus, the BBC reported.

Dr Marian Knight, who led the research, said the study suggests that getting vaccinated against flu was the best protection.

"This new evidence of the risk to babies shows even more clearly the severe consequences H1N1 flu infection can have in pregnancy," Dr Knight said.

"By getting vaccinated against flu, women can prevent these risks to both themselves and their unborn child."

Figures from the Health Protection Agency in the UK show that the uptake of flu vaccinations among pregnant women was relatively low in the country.

Just over half of pregnant women considered to be in high risk groups, such as those with conditions like asthma, were vaccinated.

Janet Scott, research manager at Sands, the stillbirth and neonatal death charity, said seasonal flu is not normally linked with stillbirth so it was alarming that there were much higher rates associated with H1N1.