Flu & People with Diabetes
People with diabetes (type 1, type 2, or gestational), even when well-managed, are at higher risk of developing 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% of adults hospitalized with flu reported to CDC had diabetes. Flu also can make chronic (long-term) health problems like diabetes worse because these conditions can make the immune system less able to fight off infections. Furthermore, acute illnesses like flu can make it harder to control your blood sugar levels. Flu may raise your blood 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.
Diabetes is a chronic 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).
A Flu Vaccine is the Best Protection Against Flu
Flu vaccination is especially important for people with diabetes because they are at higher risk of developing serious flu complications. Because flu vaccines are updated each season to keep up with changing viruses and immunity provided by flu vaccination decreases over time, annual vaccination is recommended for the best protection against flu. Flu vaccines protect against the four flu viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. More information on why flu vaccines may be updated annually is available: Vaccine Virus Selection, as well as this season’s exact vaccine composition. Flu vaccines for the upcoming season have been updated to better match the viruses that are expected to circulate. Immunity from flu vaccination sets in after about two weeks after getting vaccinated.
- Flu vaccination has been shown to reduce the risk of getting sick with flu as well as reduce the risk of having a serious flu outcome like a stay in the hospital or even being admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU).
- Flu vaccination also has been associated with reduced hospitalizations among people with diabetes (79%)external icon. See “What are the benefits of flu vaccination?” for more information.
CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get a seasonal flu vaccine each year, ideally by the end of October.
- Injectable influenza vaccines (flu shots) are recommended for use in people with diabetes and certain other health conditions. Flu shots have a long, established safety record in people with diabetes.
- The live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV), also known as the nasal spray vaccine, is recommended as an option for use in people 2 through 49 years old who are not pregnant. But people with some chronic medical conditions (such as diabetes) should generally not received LAIV. Your doctor or other health care professional can answer any questions you might have about flu vaccine.
Get pneumococcal vaccines.
- Having flu increases your risk of getting pneumococcal disease. Pneumonia is an example of a serious complication 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.
In addition to getting a flu vaccine, people with diabetes should take the same everyday preventive actions CDC recommends for everyone, including avoiding people who are sick, covering coughs, and washing hands often.
In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, local governments or public health departments may recommend additional precautions be taken in your community. Follow those instructions.
Specific Health Actions for People with Diabetes
- Plan ahead to maintain sufficient supplies of your regular medications for chronic medical conditions (e.g., at least a 2-week supply)
If you get flu symptoms call your health care provider 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 higher risk of serious flu complications, such as people with diabetes.
Flu symptoms can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue. Some people also may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than in adults. People may be infected with flu and have respiratory symptoms without a fever.
- Influenza antiviral drugs are medicines that 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.
- Treatment with an influenza antiviral drug should begin as soon as possible because these medications work best when started early (within 48 hours after symptoms start).
- You need a prescription from a health care provider for an influenza antiviral medication.
- There are four FDA-approved flu antiviral drugs recommended by CDC this season that can be used to treat flu.
Anyone experiencing any of the following emergency warning signs of flu sickness, including people with diabetes, should seek medical attention right away.
People experiencing these warning signs should obtain medical care right away.
These lists are not all inclusive. Please consult your medical provider for any other symptom that is severe or concerning.
Take this short quiz to find out which vaccines you need and create a customized printout to take with you to your next medical appointment.
Additional Resources for People with Diabetes
- Staying Healthy While Living with Diabetes
- Preparing for Sick Days
- Staying Well in Flu Season
- Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine
- People at Higher Risk of Developing Flu–Related Complications
- Treating Influenza (Flu) Fact Sheet pdf icon[308 KB , 2 Pages, 8.5″ x 11″]
- Healthy Living with Diabetes Infographics
- CDC Obesity and Overweight Web Site
- Pneumonia (Pneumococcal) Vaccine