Flu and People with Diabetes

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People with diabetes (type 1 or type 2), even when well-managed, are at high risk of serious flu complications

People with diabetes (type 1, type 2, or gestational), even when well-managed, are at high risk of serious flu complications, which can result in hospitalization and sometimes even death. Pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections and ear infections are examples of flu-related complications. In recent seasons, about 30 percent of adult flu hospitalizations reported to CDC have had diabetes. Flu also can make chronic health problems, like diabetes, worse. This is because diabetes can make the immune system less able to fight infections. In addition, illness can make it harder to control your blood sugar. Flu may raise your sugar levels, but sometimes people don’t feel like eating when they are sick and a reduced appetite can cause blood sugar levels to fall. It is important for people with diabetes to follow the sick day guidelines if they become ill.

A Flu Vaccine is the Best Protection Against Flu

Diabetes is a chronic (long-lasting) disease that affects how your body turns food into energy. There are three main types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes (diabetes while pregnant). More than 100 million Americans are living with diabetes (30.3 million) or prediabetes (84.1 million).

Flu vaccination is especially important for people with diabetes because they are at high risk of developing serious flu complications. Flu vaccines are updated each season as needed to keep up with changing viruses. Also, immunity wanes over time; annual vaccination is recommended for the best possible protection against flu. A flu vaccine protects against the flu viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. (See Vaccine Virus Selection for this season’s exact vaccine composition.) The 2019-2020 flu vaccine has been updated from last season’s vaccine to better match circulating viruses. Immunity from vaccination sets in after about two weeks.

CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older get a seasonal flu vaccine each year by the end of October.

Flu Vaccines for People with Diabetes

Get pneumococcal vaccines.

  • Having flu increases your risk of getting pneumococcal disease. Pneumonia is an example of a serious that can cause death.
  • People who have diabetes also should be up to date with pneumococcal vaccination to help protect against pneumococcal disease. Pneumococcal vaccination should be part of a diabetes management plan. Talk to your health care provider to find out which pneumococcal vaccines are recommended for you.

Other Preventive Actions for People with Diabetes

In addition to getting a flu vaccine, people with diabetes should take the same everyday preventive actions CDC recommends of everyone, including covering cough, washing hands often, and avoiding people who are sick.

Symptoms and Treatment

If you get flu symptoms call your doctor right away. There are antiviral drugs that can treat flu illness and that may prevent serious flu complications. CDC recommends prompt flu treatment for people who have flu infection or suspected flu infection and who are at high risk of serious flu complications, such as people with diabetes.

Symptoms

Flu symptoms can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people may also have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children People may be infected with flu and have respiratory symptoms without a fever.

Treatment

  • Treatment should begin as soon as possible because antiviral drug treatment works best when started early (within 48 hours after symptoms start).
  • Antiviral drugs require a prescription from a doctor. These medicines fight against flu by keeping flu viruses from making more viruses in your body.
  • Antiviral drugs can make your flu illness milder and make you feel better faster. They may also prevent serious health problems that can result from flu illness.
  • There are four FDA-approved flu antiviral drugs recommended by CDC this season that can be used to treat flu.

When to Seek Emergency Medical Care

Anyone experiencing any of the following emergency warning signs of flu sickness, including people with diabetes, should seek medical attention right away.

Emergency Warning Signs of Flu

People experiencing these warning signs should obtain medical care right away.

In children

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish lips or face
  • Ribs pulling in with each breath
  • Chest pain
  • Severe muscle pain (child refuses to walk)
  • Dehydration (no urine for 8 hours, dry mouth, no tears when crying)
  • Not alert or interacting when awake
  • Seizures
  • Fever above 104°F
  • In children less than 12 weeks, any fever
  • Fever or cough that improve but then return or worsen
  • Worsening of chronic medical conditions

In adults

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Persistent dizziness, confusion, inability to arouse
  • Seizures
  • Not urinating
  • Severe muscle pain
  • Severe weakness or unsteadiness
  • Fever or cough that improve but then return or worsen
  • Worsening of chronic medical conditions

These lists are not all inclusive. Please consult your medical provider for any other symptom that is severe or concerning.

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