Can Catching a Cold or Flu During Pregnancy Cause a Miscarriage?

Why Cold and Flu Are Unlikely Miscarriage Risk Factors

Blonde pregnant woman is blowing her nose
Can the flu or a cold raise the risk of miscarriage?. Getty Images/Stefanie Sudek

Winter is cold season for more reasons than one, and nearly everyone catches at least one cold or flu in the winter months. Should pregnant women worry about common winter viruses?

Cold or Flu and Miscarriage

Although cold and flu viruses can certainly make you uncomfortable, they aren't likely to cause miscarriage. While the CDC and others claim that influenza may raise the risk of miscarriage, there have never been any conclusive studies showing a link—at least in recent years.

Asking questions about colds and the flu and miscarriage is certainly founded. It's actually thought that infections are responsible for 15 percent of early miscarriages and up to 66 of late miscarriages overall. Thankfully, the flu, at least over the last few decades, is not high on this list.

During the 1918 flu pandemic which spanned the globe, the influenza virus clearly played a role in miscarriages. It's thought that one in ten pregnant women had early miscarriages during that time, over and above what would be considered the expected incidence. Since that time, studies evaluating the flu in pregnant women have not found an increased risk of miscarriage, though the flu carries other concerns for pregnant women. During the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, for example, women who contracted the flu while pregnant had an increased risk of premature birth, infant death, and intensive care unit admissions.

In contrast, the flu vaccination has been studied extensively and does not appear to pose any risk with regard to miscarriage. As we are told that we are overdue for another pandemic such as that in 1918, it seems it would be wise for pregnant women to stay up-to-date with flu vaccinations.

It's important to note that, while the jury is out on whether or not the flu virus itself can raise miscarriage risk, having a fever during pregnancy (a temperature over 100 degrees fahrenheit) is linked with an increased risk.

If you do catch the flu, your doctor may advise you to keep your fever well controlled with acetaminophen (like Tylenol) while you are sick.

What's the Difference Between a Cold and Flu?

According to the CDC, cold and flu both cause flu-like symptoms; however, the flu is usually worse than a cold. Cold and flu are caused by different viruses.

Symptoms of both cold and flu can include fever, fatigue, body aches and dry cough. People with flu experience these symptoms more severely. With cold, a person is more likely to have rhinorrhea, or stuffy and runny nose. Furthermore, colds usually don't lead to more serious problems that would result in hospitalization, such as pneumonia or more severe bacterial infections.

Based on symptoms alone, your physician may have trouble distinguishing cold from flu because they're both so similar. However, special tests can be done to distinguish between them.

A Closer Look at Flu

The flu (or influenza) is contagious, and the symptoms of flu usually hit suddenly. Some specific symptoms of flu include:

  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Muscle aches
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting (more common in children)
  • Diarrhea (more common in children)

Please keep in mind that just because you don't have a fever, doesn't mean that you don't have the flu.

In other words, you can have the flu without fever.

Who Is at Risk for Catching the Flu?

Although anyone is at risk for catching the flu, the flu is more common among the following patient populations:

  • Pregnant women
  • Older people
  • Children
  • People with chronic medical conditions, such as asthma and heart disease

What Are Complications of the Flu?

Fortunately, most people who get the flu recover after a few days. However, some people do develop pneumonia, a serious lung infection that can sometimes be deadly. Other respiratory infections can result from the flu, including bronchitis and sinusitis. The flu can also result in an ear infection (the middle ear is connected to the respiratory tract).

The flu can exacerbate other illness. For example, the flu can make asthma worse and serve as a trigger for asthma attacks. Additionally, the flu can make heart failure worse.

Preventing and Coping with the Flu

Even with the best intentions, it's hard to avoid colds and the flu altogether. Check out this flu season tool kit which covers everything from vaccination to coping before the season arrives.


Bloom-Feshbach, K., Simonsen, L., Viboud, C., Molbak, K., Miller, M., Gottfredsson, M., and V. Andreasen. Natality Decline and Miscarriages Associated with the1918 Influenza Pandemic: the Scandinavian and United States Experiences. Journal of Infectious Diseases. 2011. 204(8):1157-64.

Doyle, T., Goodin, K., and J. Hamilton. Maternal and Neonatal Outcomes Among Pregnant Women with 2009 Pandemic Influenza A(H1N1) Illness in Florida, 2009-2010: A Population-Based Cohort Study. PLoS One. 213. 8(10):e79040.

Giakoumelou, S., Wheelhouse, N., Cuschieri, K., Entrican, G., Howie, S., and A. Horne. The Role of Infection in Miscarriage. Human Reproduction Update. 2016. 22(1):116-33.

McMillan, M., Porritt, K., Kralik, D., Costi, L., and H. Marshall. Influenza Vaccination During Pregnancy: A Systematic Review of Fetal Death, Spontaneous Abortion, and Congenital Malformation Safety Outcomes. Vaccine. 2015. 33(18):210817.

Tolandi, T. Patient education: Miscarriage (Beyond the Basics). UpToDate. Updated 07/16/15.

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