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Why does having diabetes put me at higher risk for getting the flu?
People with diabetes (type 1 and 2), even when well-managed, are at increased risk of severe disease and complications, like hospitalization and even death, as a result of getting the flu. This is because diabetes can make the immune system less able to fight severe influenza disease.
In addition, illness can raise your blood sugar level. Also, sometimes people don’t feel like eating when they are sick, and this can cause blood sugar levels to rise and fall.
How can I protect myself from getting the flu?
Getting the flu vaccine is the most effective way to prevent the flu. The CDC recommends that people with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, who are 6 months and older, get a flu shot. The nasal spray vaccine is not safe for people with diabetes.
Additional steps to take daily in order to prevent the flu include:
• washing hands often with soap and water, or an alcohol based hand sanitizer if soap and water is not available
• cover your cough or sneeze – cough/sneeze into your elbow or into a tissue that can then be thrown away
• avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth
• try to avoid close contact with sick people
• practice good health habits, such as getting plenty of sleep and exercise, manage stress, eat healthy foods, and drink plenty of fluids
People with type 1 or type 2 diabetes are also at an increased risk of developing pneumonia from the flu, therefore a pneumonia (pneumococcal) vaccine is also recommended for them. A pneumonia vaccine should be part of a diabetes management plan.
Flu and pneumonia vaccine is available at the Anderson County Health Department. For more information about diabetes or flu and pneumonia vaccine, call 502-839-4551.
April Thomas is a guest columnist and health educator with the Anderson County Health Department.