The Flu, Flu Shots, and Diabetes
Along with the cooler weather and colorful leaves of Fall, comes the beginning of cold and flu season. However, as early as August is when vaccinations commence against the flu, a potentially deadly and highly contagious disease. Flu season can last until as late as May.
The flu is a respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. For people with diabetes, this illness can impair the immune system and cause serious complications such as bacterial pneumonia, dehydration, and an overall worsening of an already difficult disease. People with diabetes who develop the flu are also at a high risk for developing pneumonia. People with diabetes are three times more likely to die with influenza or the pneumonia. They are also six times more likely to be hospitalized due to flu complications. For these reasons, everyone with diabetes should get a flu immunization as soon as the annual vaccine becomes available.
The flu virus spreads mainly from person to person by way of coughing, sneezing, or transmission of the virus from an object to the person's mouth or nose. A person can be contagious from 1 day before symptoms appear up to 5 days after becoming sick. It takes about 2 weeks after getting the flu vaccine for the antibodies to protect against the flu virus.
About Influenza Vaccinations
Currently, there are two vaccines to prevent influenza:
- Flu shot – an inactivated virus (contains the dead virus) administered by needle. The flu shot is approved for people 6 months old and older, including healthy people and people with chronic conditions such as diabetes.
- Nasal-spray (Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine – LAIV) – a vaccine made with live, weakened flu virus that does not cause the flu. The nasal spray is approved for people 2 – 49 years old who are not pregnant. It is not, however, recommended for people at risk of developing severe complications from the flu, such as people with diabetes.
The flu and pneumococcal (pneumonia) vaccines are covered by Medicare, Part B so check with your doctor if you have Medicare and need a flu shot.
Flu vaccines do not contain a live virus and therefore cannot infect you. However, some people do coincidentally catch a cold about the same time as receiving the shot. If you do get the flu after receiving the shot, your chances for developing complications is reduced because of the vaccine.
- Fever (usually high)
- Dry cough
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuff nose
- Muscle aches
- Stomach symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea (more common in children)
Potential Flu Complications
- Bacterial pneumonia
- Ear infections
- Sinus infections
- Worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes, congestive heart failure, and asthma
Who should get the flu vaccine:
- All people 6 months and older
- People at high risk for developing flu complications, including:
• Pregnant women
• People 50 and older
• People with chronic conditions, such as diabetes or congestive heart failure
• Nursing home residents or others in long-term care facilities
- People who live with or care for other who are at high risk for developing flu complications, including:
• Household contacts of persons at high risk
• Household contacts and out-of-home caregivers of children under 6 months old (these children are too young to be vaccinated)
• Health care workers
- Anyone who is morbidly obese, which is a newly recognized medical risk factor for developing influenza complications.
- Anyone who wants to decrease his or her risk of developing influenza.
The flu shot should be taken every year.
Reviewed by Jason C. Baker, M.D. 01/13.
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