Flu Prevention and Treatment Tips for People with Diabetes
Chronic conditions like diabetes can weaken your immune system and increase your risk for catching the flu (influenza). If you have diabetes, you also may have a harder time fighting off the flu virus, and are more likely to develop serious flu-related complications, such as pneumonia. In addition, illness can make it difficult to eat properly and regulate your blood sugar levels.
Getting recommended immunizations is an important part of an effective diabetes management plan, so talk to your health care provider about the flu and pneumococcal vaccines. Vaccination is the best way to reduce your risk for influenza and complications from the flu. The flu vaccine is safe and recommended for most people over the age of 6 months—especially those who are at high risk for complications.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the flu is more prevalent during the winter months in the United States. Flu season begins as early as October and usually peaks in mid- to late-winter. Each year, the flu vaccine contains a number of influenza viruses identified by various health agencies (U.S. Food and Drug Administration [FDA], World Health Organization [WHO], CDC, and others) as the most likely to cause illness during the upcoming flu season.
People with diabetes should receive the flu shot, not the nasal flu vaccine. The flu shot contains killed virus and cannot cause influenza. Side effects of the flu shot are usually mild and include soreness, redness or swelling at the injection site and low-grade fever. Additional flu prevention tips include avoiding contact with people who are sick and practicing good hygiene. Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially before eating and after coughing or sneezing. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and discard the tissue in the trash. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth as much as possible.
If you have diabetes and develop flu symptoms, contact your health care provider immediately. Prescription antiviral medications can help you feel better faster and help prevent flu complications. Antivirals are more effective when started within 2 days of contracting the flu.
Symptoms of the flu include the following:
- Body aches
- Sore throat
- Nausea, vomiting , diarrhea (in some cases)
The flu usually resolves within 2 weeks. Be sure to get plenty of rest and fluids. If you have diabetes, your health care provider may recommend you take the following steps:
- Continue to take your diabetes medication or insulin as directed. In some cases, your doctor will adjust the dosages when you are sick.
- Test your blood sugar every four hours or as directed, and keep track of the results.
- Drink extra (sugar-free) liquids and try to eat as normally as possible. Try soft foods and liquids that contain your usual amount of carbohydrates.
- Have at least a week’s worth of medication and supplies in case you aren’t feeling well enough to go out.
- Monitor your weight daily. Unintentional weight loss can be a sign of high blood sugar.
- Call your doctor or go to the emergency room if:
- You are unable to keep food down for 6 hours or longer or have severe diarrhea.
- You lose 5 or more pounds.
- You develop a fever higher than 101°F.
- Your blood glucose drops below 60 mg/dL or higher than 300 mg/dL.
- You have moderate or large amounts of ketones in your urine.
- You have difficulty breathing.
- You become very sleepy or are unable to think clearly.
Sources: FLU.gov (managed by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)