September 30, 2013

Diabetes and flu: what you need to know
Clinician says those with diabetes should receive the flu vaccine and not the mist, which is not safe for diabetics.

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There are certain groups of people who are at risk of serious flu complications each year, including those with diabetes.

Fernando Ovalle sSeasonal flu activity can begin as early as October and continue to occur as late as May. Flu cases were reported at the University of Alabama at Birmingham as early as September, and now is the time to prepare for the upcoming flu season, said Fernando Ovalle, M.D., professor of medicine in the UAB School of Medicine and senior scientist in the UAB Comprehensive Diabetes Center.

“Diabetes can weaken your immune system against the flu, and it also puts you at an increased risk of flu-related complications,” Ovalle says. “The weakening of the immune system makes it harder for your body to fight the flu virus. Being sick can also raise your blood glucose and prevent you from eating properly. You are also at risk of flu-related complications like pneumonia.”

There are several things Ovalle said diabetics and parents of diabetics can do to give some protection from the virus:

  • Get a flu vaccine shot. The nasal spray vaccine is not safe for people with diabetes.
  • Talk to your health care provider about the pneumococcal vaccine. It will help protect against pneumonia.
  • Keep track of blood glucose. It can be affected by illness.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • Practice the good-health habits like getting plenty of sleep and exercise, managing stress, drinking plenty of fluids and eating healthy food.
For diabetics who think they have the flu, Ovalle suggests doing the following:

  • Contact a health care provider immediately. Symptoms include fever or feeling feverish or experiencing chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuff nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue. In children, vomiting and diarrhea can be common.
  • Continue taking diabetes pills or insulin.
  • Test blood glucose every four hours and track results.
  • Stay hydrated; drink lots of calorie-free liquids.
  • Try to eat normally.
  • Weigh every day. Losing weight without trying is a sign of high blood glucose.
“Experiencing the flu is no fun for anyone, and especially those with diabetes,” said Ovalle, who has an active clinical practice and serves as the director of the Multidisciplinary Comprehensive Diabetes Clinic at UAB. “Be vigilant and smart, especially when it comes to washing your hands. And if you every have any questions or concerns, contact your health care provider.”

Read Ovalle’s Everyday Health column for an expert’s take on the U.S. diabetes epidemic.
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