By Jeffrey Kowalski, MD, family medicine physician with Wheaton Franciscan Medical Group in Wauwatosa.
This month, you’ll start to hear more about ways to protect yourself from catching the flu, which includes getting your annual flu shot. But did you know that if you are a diabetic, Type 1 or Type 2, you are at an increased risk for developing severe complications – even death – as a result from getting the flu?
The flu, or influenza, is a viral infection of the respiratory system and muscles. And while everyone has a chance of catching flu, simply having diabetes makes it harder to fight off viruses that cause flu.
Roughly 24 million people have diabetes in the U.S., according to the American Diabetes Association. Reports show that number is expected to double or triple in the next 40 years. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), diabetes can actually make your immune system weaker to fighting severe influenza disease—even if your diabetes is well managed. A diabetic’s blood sugar can rise just by simply being sick with the flu.
As we all know, when you’re sick, you sometimes don’t want to eat; that, too, can impact and fluctuate a person’s blood sugar levels. Put simply, people who suffer from diabetes are more susceptible – three times more likely than those without diabetes – to develop complications and even die from flu or pneumonia-related issues.
So if you have diabetes, it is important for you and any close household contacts or caregivers to get an annual seasonal flu shot. The CDC recommends that anyone aged 6 months or older receive the seasonal flu shot every year. The nasal flu spray is not recommended for diabetics because their immune systems are generally weaker.
In addition, the CDC recommends diabetics include getting a vaccine to protect themselves against the effects of pneumococcal bacteria, which will help protect them from developing pneumonia.
Diabetics should also take steps to prevent the spread of germs such as covering coughs and sneezes, as well as practicing good hand washing skills.
If a person with diabetes contracts the flu, they should :
- Continue to take any medication – including insulin – to manage their blood sugar levels, even if they have trouble eating. Your doctor may even increase your insulin dosage during times when you’re sick.
- Monitor your glucose levels more frequently, every four hours, and watch for changes.
- Drink extra liquids, and if you can’t eat, try to consume soft foods at generally the same carbohydrate level you would normally consume.
- Watch your weight. If you lose weight without trying, it could be a sign that your blood glucose is high.
You should contact your doctor or seek emergency attention if you feel too sick to eat or cannot keep food down for more than six hours, experience severe diarrhea, a temperature over 101 degrees F, feel dizzy or sleepy, or if your blood glucose drops below 60 mg/dL or remains above 300 mg/dL.
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