The National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health (CDC) recommends that everyone, especially people with diabetes and other diseases, get both a seasonal flu vaccination and an H1N1 flu (“swine flu”) vaccination this year.
Seasonal flu risks for people with diabetes
Most healthy people recover from the misery of seasonal flu without much difficulty, but people with diabetes are at higher risk for more serious complications. The illness may not only raise your blood glucose in and of itself, but it may also cause you to eat irregularly, further destabilizing your blood sugar. Because diabetes can make the immune system more vulnerable to a severe case of the flu, people with diabetes who come down with the flu can become so sick that they land in the hospital. The CDC even has a special publication about diabetes and flu shots. They also recommend that people with diabetes get vaccinated against pneumonia.
Are people with diabetes more at risk for H1N1 flu?
The answer is that the experts don’t know for sure. According to a Canadian study described in the Miami Herald, the flu is deadliest to “relatively healthy adolescents and adults between the ages of 10 and 60 years old.” This flies in the face of the assumption that the H1N1 flu, like the seasonal flu, is most dangerous to people with underlying medical conditions such as diabetes. Nevertheless, the CDC believes the risks of contracting the H1N1 flu outweigh the risks of getting the vaccination. Consequently, they urge everyone to get both the seasonal flu and the H1N1 flu vaccinations, especially:
- healthy young people from birth through age 24,
- pregnant women, and
- adults ages 25 to 64 who have underlying medical conditions (like diabetes).
Because the CDC is convinced that vaccination is the best way to prevent the flu and its complications, it has worked very hard to have a special swine vaccine available this fall for the H1N1 influenza virus. They also strongly recommend that the entire family of anyone with an immune-compromising disease (such as diabetes) be vaccinated. Once vaccinated, you still might get the flu, but you will be less likely to develop a respiratory tract infection or other secondary complications, thus reducing your risk of hospitalization and death.
People with diabetes should get inactivated flu shots
Because having diabetes facilitates a compromised immune system, all vaccinations should be in the form of the inactivated virus, the type found in injections. The nasal spray vaccine (also called LAIV) should be avoided because it contains virus that is only weakened, not inactivated. People with diabetes should receive the inactivated versions of both the seasonal and the H1N1 flu shots. Read more about inactivated and active vaccines.
The ideal time to get a seasonal flu shot is right now-between October and mid-November. The highest risk groups are getting the first batches of the H1N1 flu shot, and the CDC recommends getting that shot as soon as it becomes available. Talk to your healthcare provider about how and when to get one.
Seasonal flu symptoms include coughing, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headaches, body aches, chills, and fatigue.
The CDC says that approximately five to 20 percent of the population gets the seasonal flu in a typical year. Nearly 36,000 flu-related deaths occur in this country every year.
Pandemic H1N1 flu
Many of the symptoms of H1N1 flu are the same as seasonal flu, with the possible addition of vomiting and diarrhea.
The worry is that the swine flu pandemic may cause a lot more people to become sick, require hospitalization, and die than during other years. The word “pandemic” is used when there is little or no immunity against a new virus, the virus causes serious illness, and it spreads easily from person to person worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) named the swine flu a global pandemic on June 11, 2009.
The young and the old
The good news is that there might finally be an upside to growing old. People over 65, even though they often do have underlying conditions, seem to have some immunity to the swine flu because of their exposure to similar viruses or inoculations over the course of their long lives.
The belief that swine flu is dangerous to children seems to be true. The CDC reports that 76 children younger than 18 have died of swine flu so far this year. The seasonal flu usually kills between 46 and 88 children a year. In the Canadian study mentioned earlier, 50 of the 168 seriously ill patients were under 18. Pregnant women are also at the top of the priority list for getting the swine flu vaccine as soon as possible because they are “at increased risk.” Find a place to get a swine flu shot.
An ounce of prevention…
Washing your hands often and practicing good hygiene are very important in preventing the spread of either kind of flu.
Diabetes and any kind of flu
The CDC recommends that people with diabetes who contract the flu do the following:
- 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 eat, try soft foods and liquids containing the same amount of carbohydrates that you usually consume.
- Weigh yourself every day. Losing weight without trying is a sign of a blood glucose problem.
If you are a person with diabetes who contracts the flu, the CDC advises you to call your healthcare provider or go to an emergency room if you experience any of the following:
- You feel too sick to eat normally and are unable to keep down food for more than six hours.
- You’re having severe diarrhea.
- You lose five pounds or more.
- Your temperature is over 101 degrees F.
- Your blood glucose is lower than 60 mg/dL or remains over 300 mg/dL.
- You have moderate or large amounts of ketones in your urine.
- You’re having trouble breathing.
- You feel sleepy or can’t think clearly.
Are there some people who should not get the vaccine?
Anyone with a severe (life-threatening) allergy to chicken eggs should not get the vaccine, as it is produced in eggs.
Read more information:
Vaccinations from the CDC’s publication, Take Charge of Your Diabetes
FluCount.org reports up-to-the-minute world-wide stats on the swine flu
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National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health (CDC)