With flu season among us, patients with diabetes need to get yearly flu shots because they are more susceptible to infection. Therefore, it is vital that they obtain yearly flu shots as a preventive measure.
The flu, also referred to as influenza, is a very serious disease that can make people with diabetes very sick. On average, the flu causes 36,000 deaths and more than 200,000 hospitalizations. Knowing that, it’s hard to believe that only 50 percent of patients with diabetes receive the flu vaccine.
According to the American Diabetes Association, people with diabetes who have not had the flu shot go into the hospital five times as often as those who have had the shot. October or November is the best time to receive the vaccination, but if you didn’t get it then, you still can get vaccinated in December and even later. Flu season can start as early as October and end as late as May.
It takes approximately two weeks after the vaccination for the flu shot to provide protection, and that’s why it’s more effective to receive the vaccine in early fall. Flu shots do not give 100 percent protection, but they do make it more difficult to be infected with the flu for approximately six months. The viruses in the flu shot are inactivated. Therefore, you cannot get the flu from the flu shot itself, which is a common misconception.
And while there are multiple types of the vaccine, people with diabetes need to obtain the injection and not the flu mist because the mist is not approved for anyone with a medical condition. If you’ve got a fever, you need to wait to receive the shot, otherwise, the most common side effects that could occur following the vaccination include soreness, redness or swelling at the injection site, low-grade fever, or minor aches. If these symptoms occur, they will begin soon after the shot is given and last only one to two days.
Family members of diabetic patients also should receive the flu shot not only because it keeps them healthy, but it also reduces the risk of a diabetes patient becoming infected. The flu is highly contagious, and it’s transmitted through coughing, sneezing or touching objects with the flu virus on them.
In addition to the yearly flu shot, individuals, diabetic or not, need to wash their hands on a regular basis for at least 15 seconds each time. Hand washing is the No. 1 way to prevent the spread of germs and bacteria. Fifteen seconds of hand washing is equivalent to singing the “Happy Birthday” song. Other ways to prevent the spread of germs, bacteria and the flu include staying away from crowds during peak flu season, covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, and avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
To learn more about getting a flu shot for added protection this winter, talk to the local health department or your physician.
Dawn Hollaway is a registered nurse and certified diabetes educator at the Blount Memorial Diabetes Management Center, where she also serves as program coordinator. She also holds a master’s degree in public health.