If you have diabetes, it’s incredibly important to get your flu (influenza) vaccine. Diabetes can compromise the immune system and make it harder for you to fight off viruses once you come into contact with them.
According to the Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to die from the flu as those without. In addition, around 80,000 people overall die from influenza each year. The good news is that getting a flu vaccine will help you build the antibodies necessary to fight off this contagious and serious virus.
Where to get a flu vaccine
Getting your influenza vaccine can prevent a trip to the hospital as well as other possible ailments such as pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections, and ear infections. It takes about two weeks for you body to build up immunity after you receive the shot. You may be able to get a flu vaccine at the following locations:
- Your general practitioner’s office
- Shot clinic
- Health clinic
- Walk-in pharmacy clinic
- Minor medical centers
- Urgent care centers
Some employers will arrange for their employees to get a flu vaccine and cover the cost of the shot in order to cut down on employee sick time. Ask your employer if they cover the flu vaccine.
How the flu affects diabetes
- Increased blood sugar. The flu can cause an increase in blood sugar, and if you’re already feeling terrible, you may not notice the change. Doctors recommend you test your blood sugar every three to four hours while ill. You may need to adjust your insulin while ill, so contact your doctor immediately if you think you are getting the flu.
- Pneumonia. People with diabetes are especially susceptible to flu complications, including pneumonia. To avoid major complications, contact your doctor at the first sign of illness. Flu symptoms include fever, severe aches and pains, weakness, headache, and sore throat.
- Nausea and vomiting. If you experience nausea and vomiting, it can be difficult to control your blood sugar. Doctors recommend eating about 15 grams of carbs every hour or so, such as a slice of bread, ¾ cup of yogurt, or 1 cup of soup. If you have trouble keeping food down, ask your doctor about anti-nausea medications.
- Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). If you aren’t eating regularly while ill, you could develop ketoacidosis, a dangerous buildup of ketones in the bloodstream that can result in excessive thirst, rapid breathing, frequent urination, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, weakness, fatigue, and confusion. Ketoacidosis is a serious medical condition that requires immediate medical attention, so seek help immediately if you think you have it.
Other recommended vaccines
In addition to the flu vaccine, the American Association of Diabetes Educators recommends that people with diabetes get the following vaccines:
- Tdap vaccine. This vaccine protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis, which lead to lockjaw, croup, and whooping cough. The tetanus booster should be administered every 10 years.
- Zoster vaccine. People with diabetes are at greater risk of complications from shingles. This vaccine prevents the rash, blisters, and nerve pain that accompany shingles.
- Pneumococcal vaccine. This important vaccine protects against pneumonia, bacteremia, and meningitis, all of which can be deadly, especially in people with diabetes.
- Hepatitis B vaccine. It’s vital to protect against this virus that can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer. People with diabetes should be sure never to share diabetes equipment as the hepatitis B virus is transmitted via blood.
Tips for staying healthy with diabetes and the flu
- Get a flu shot. Getting a flu shot is the best way to safeguard your health and your first opportunity to prevent contracting the flu. Be sure that others in your family get the vaccine as well.
- Call your doctor at the first sign of illness. In some cases, your doctor may be able to prescribe you medication to alleviate your symptoms or cut down on the amount of time you’ll be sick.
- Stay home if you’re sick. Don’t spread the flu to other people; stay home and keeping your germs contained.
- Get plenty of sleep. Getting plenty of rest is the best way to fight off the flu.
- Check your blood sugar regularly. Doctors recommend checking your blood sugar every three to four hours while you have the flu.
- Track your symptoms. Tracking your symptoms (including food intake) can help you stay on top of your blood sugar.
Since people with diabetes are more susceptible to seasonal ailments than those without, it’s important to talk with your doctor and get the appropriate vaccines. Be prepared this flu season to stay healthy and strong. As always with diabetes, get exercise each day, eat a healthy diet, and stay on top of your blood sugar levels.