Diabetes and the Flu

As flu season approaches, many people are debating whether they should get a flu shot. As everyone knows, getting the flu is not fun. In fact, it can be downright miserable. But for those with diabetes, the flu can mean more than a cough, running nose, and body aches–it could mean more severe complications, and sometimes even death.

According to WebMD,  the influenza, or flu, is a viral infection of the respiratory system and muscles. Flu symptoms usually come on abruptly and may include the following: fever (usually high), severe aches and pains in the joints and muscles and around the eyes, generalized weakness, ill appearance with warm, flushed skin and red, watery eyes, headache, dry cough, sore throat, and watery discharge from the nose.

But for diabetics, there is more: Flu and other viral infections can create added stress in the body, which can raise blood sugar levels and increase the chance of serious health complications. Contracting the flu also can prevent sufferers from eating properly, which further affects blood glucose

In 2009, the flu was front-page news, and many people began to consider the flu shot to avoid contracting the H1N1 virus, or swine flu. At the time, the flu shot was difficult to obtain because its makers were unable to keep up with the demand. In 2010, however, the flu shot is readily available. For the 2010-2011 flu season, the flu vaccine will include protection against the 2009 H1N1 virus and two other flu viruses.

The U.S. government, through Flu.gov, sponsored by agencies such as the CDC and the White House, is encouraging people with diabetes to get the flu shot as soon as possible, citing the above risk of increased blood glucose. They also point out that pneumonia is a possible flu complication. Consequently, a pneumonia (pneumococcal) vaccine also is recommended for people with diabetes and should be part of a diabetes management plan.

But what should you do if you are diabetic and do contract the flu? Flu.gov recommends the following:

  • Be sure to continue taking your diabetes pills or insulin.  Don’t stop taking them even if you can’t eat. Your healthcare provider may even advise you to take more insulin during sickness.
  • Test your blood glucose every four hours and keep track of the results.
  • Drink extra (calorie-free) liquids, and try to eat as you normally would. If you can’t, try to have soft foods and liquids containing the amount of carbohydrates that you usually consume.
  • Weigh yourself every day. Losing weight without trying is a sign of high blood glucose.

They also recommend seeking help from a healthcare professional, as antiviral drugs could be very important for diabetics who contract the flu.

So this flu season, make sure you and your loved ones are protected against the flu. Living with diabetes can be tough enough. Why let the flu make it tougher?

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