Diabetics: Have you scheduled your flu shot?

With flu season around the corner, patients with diabetes need to obtain their yearly flu vaccine. Individuals with diabetes 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 illness that can make people with diabetes very sick.

According to the American Diabetes Association, people with diabetes should get flu shots every fall, however only 50 percent of patients with diabetes receive the flu vaccine. During flu outbreaks, 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. A flu shot is the single best way to protect yourself against being infected with the flu virus.

It is best to go ahead and receive vaccination now, as flu season can start as early as October, but you can still get vaccinated at a later date. During the month of August, various physician offices began offering the flu vaccine to their patients. This fall, the seasonal flu vaccine also will include protection against the 2009 H1N1 virus. This is an advantage for receiving the shot because we now have one vaccine to protect against the major circulating flu viruses. As always, some children younger than 9 years of age may need two doses to be protected.

Flu shots do not give 100 percent protection against the flu, but make it more difficult to be infected with the flu for approximately six months. The viruses in the flu shot are inactive; therefore, you cannot get the flu from the shot itself, which is a common misconception. People with diabetes need to obtain the injection and not the mist, because the mist is not approved for anyone with a medical condition. Individuals who are sick with a fever need to wait until the fever has subsided to get their flu shot. Others who should avoid the flu are people allergic to chicken eggs or flu shot ingredients, people with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, those who have life-threatening reactions to a flu vaccine and babies less than 6 months old.

Family members also need to obtain the flu shot because that not only keeps them healthy, but also reduces the risk of the diabetes patient becoming infected. The flu is highly contagious and is transmitted through coughing, sneezing, or touching objects with the flu virus on it. If a person with diabetes gets sick with the flu:

• Call your physician, who may prescribe medicine to fight the flu.

• Continue to take diabetes medications as prescribed by your physician.

• Monitor blood sugar every four hours, and keep track of the results.

• Consume at least 8 ounces (calorie-free) liquid every hour. If you’re having trouble eating, try to have extra soft foods and liquids containing the equivalent amount of carbohydrates that you would typically consume.

• Stay at home for seven days after symptoms begin or until you have been symptom-free for at least 24 hours.

• Get plenty of rest.

• Cover coughs and sneezes to prevent spread of germs.

In addition to the yearly flu shot, individuals 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. Also, stay away from crowds during the peak of flu season, cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing and avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth when hands are contaminated with germs.

Dawn Hollaway is a registered nurse, certified diabetes educator and program coordinator for the Blount Memorial Diabetes Management Center.

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