This time of year is notorious for the spread of cold and flu. It’s also a time when physicians urge their patients to get an annual flu vaccine.
But for people with diabetes, getting the flu shot is even more important, explains Jessica Shill, M.D., an endocrinologist at Henry Ford Health.
“The American Diabetes Association recommends people with diabetes aged 6 months and older receive the flu vaccine every year,” she says. “Because, while those with diabetes aren’t necessarily more likely to catch the flu, symptoms can be worse and it can be more difficult for them to beat the virus.”
Dr. Shill explains two main reasons why the flu shot is so crucial for people with diabetes:
- People with diabetes are more likely to be hospitalized or even die from the flu.
Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects the function of the immune system, making it more difficult for the body to fight off the flu virus. This means that flu symptoms are often worse for people with diabetes and lead to higher instances of hospital visits, and, in extreme cases, even death.“The flu vaccine reduces diabetes-related hospital admissions up to 79 percent during flu season,” Dr. Shill says. “In addition, those with the flu are more likely to develop flu-related complications including pneumonia and sinus infections, which require additional care.”
- The flu makes it more difficult to control blood sugar levels.
“During any infection, it becomes more difficult to control blood sugar levels,” she says. “Levels could be much higher due to the virus running its course, but if you’re eating less and experiencing vomiting or diarrhea, they could be too low.”The flu can also make it more difficult for people to maintain a balanced diet and continue healthy habits like drinking enough fluids and getting enough exercise.
Hesitation About the Flu Vaccine
Are there any adverse side effects the flu shot might cause in those with diabetes? None specific for those with diabetes, but some short-lived side effects include injection site soreness, headache, fever, nausea and muscle aches, as your body learns how to fight off the virus, Dr. Shill says. The flu vaccine has a long established safety record, including in people with diabetes.
In her experience, if patients are hesitant to get the flu vaccine, it’s because they’re concerned the vaccine could actually cause the flu. It’s important to note there is no live virus in the vaccine, therefore the vaccine cannot cause the flu. Another reason, she says, is because they have never gotten the flu and feel like they don’t need the shot.
“Around this time of year, I tell my patients that getting the flu vaccine may be the most important thing they do for their diabetes care because of the higher risk for hospitalization and death if they get the flu,” she says.
What To Do If You Get the Flu
If you do have the flu, Dr. Shill recommends staying home until 24 hours after symptoms subside. If you feel a virus coming on, talk with your provider early – they may be able to prescribe medication to reduce the intensity and duration of flu symptoms. Insulin should usually still be taken when you’re sick, so it is important to talk with your doctor about how to manage insulin and other diabetes medications during illness.
And if you are continuously vomiting or experiencing diarrhea, unable to keep fluids down and can’t get your blood sugar in check, see your doctor. Because diabetes affects your immune system, your body may need help fighting off the virus.
It’s never too late to get your annual flu shot. Henry Ford offers walk-in flu shot services across metro Detroit. Click here to view a complete list of locations, and to get more information about the vaccine.