Diabetes and influenza

This post was written by Leigh Ann Brooks, RN, BSN, RD, CD, CDE, nursing services operational lead, Diabetes Education Center.

As the seasons change and we head into autumn, instances of influenza begin to increase. Each year, the flu virus makes its way around the country, the state and our city. Flu season typically begins in October and finishes its wrath in late April or early May. The influenza virus is easily spread through coughing, sneezing and being in contact with someone who has been exposed.

The flu can be a physical stressor on anyone, but can be particularly problematic in people with chronic health conditions, such as diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association’s 2019 Standards of Care, when individuals with diabetes receive the flu vaccine, they significantly reduce the risk of developing influenza and being admitted to the hospital. Therefore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that individuals with diabetes receive the annual influenza vaccine unless contraindicated for another reason.

Once administered, your body will need about two weeks to develop an immunity from the influenza viruses in the vaccine. Receiving your immunization in the early fall will help ensure your body develops immunity prior to the height of flu season. The influenza viruses in the immunization are not live and cannot cause you to develop the flu. The influenza virus mutates and changes routinely. Scientists are able to combine 3-4 virus mutations in each annual flu vaccine to provide a broad range of coverage for each year’s flu season. Even if the scientists don’t predict and match the exact strain for the immunization, it still provides some protection for those who receive it.

Risks of skipping the flu shot

When individuals with diabetes develop the flu, their immune system has a harder time fighting off the infection. In addition, when individuals with diabetes become dehydrated or sick, their blood sugars are more difficult to control. Symptoms of the flu can include fever, chills, sore throat, fatigue, cough, runny/stuffy nose, headaches and muscle aches.

It is important to understand how to manage your diabetes when you are sick. Fever, vomiting and diarrhea can all deplete your body of fluids. In addition, if you are not eating or drinking well, your sugars can vary significantly. Be sure and contact your provider early in the illness to hopefully prevent hospitalization and help you feel better sooner.


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