COLUMN: Diabetes creates high risk for flu, pneumonia

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By April Thomas

Having the flu can be dangerous for anyone. But it is extra risky for people with diabetes or other chronic health problems.

In general, every person with diabetes needs a flu shot each year. Talk with your doctor about having a flu shot. Flu shots do not give 100 percent protection, but they do make it much harder for you to catch the flu for about 6 months.

For extra safety, it’s a good idea for the people you live with or spend a lot of time with to get a flu shot, too. You are less likely to get the flu if the people around you don’t have it.

The best time to get your flu shot is beginning in September. The shot takes about two weeks to take effect. However, it is better to get the shot later in the flu season than not at all.

If you have a cold or other respiratory illness, wait until you are healthy again before having your flu shot. And don’t get a flu shot if you are allergic to eggs.

You are advised to continue to take the general precautions of preventing seasonal flu and other communicable diseases:

• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash. 

• Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective. 

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs spread that way. Try to avoid close contact with sick people. 

• If you get sick, stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them. 


What to do if you have diabetes and symptoms of flu

Talk with your doctor now about how to reach him or her quickly by telephone if you think you have the flu. Symptoms of influenza can include:

• fever 

• cough 

• sore throat 

• runny or stuffy nose 

• body aches 

• headache 

• chills 

• fatigue 

• some people may also have vomiting and diarrhea. 

People may be infected with the flu, including 2009 H1N1 flu and have respiratory symptoms without a fever.


Pneumonia Shots

People with diabetes are about three times more likely to die with flu and pneumonia. Yet only one-third of them ever get a simple, safe pneumonia shot.

A pneumonia shot is recommended for anyone aged 2 or older who, because of chronic health problems (such as diabetes) or age, has a greater chance of getting and dying with pneumonia. A pneumonia shot can also protect you from other infections caused by the same bacteria.

Consider the risks everyone faces:

• 1 out of 20 adults who get pneumonia (a lung infection) dies 

• 2 out of 10 adults who get infection of the blood (bacteremia) die 

• 3 out of 10 adults who get infection of the covering of the brain (meningitis) die 

About 10,000 people die each year because of these bacterial infections. A pneumonia shot, however, can help protect you against getting these illnesses. In fact, it is about 60% effective in preventing the most serious pneumonias, meningitis, bacteremia and death.

You can get a pneumonia shot anytime during the year. For most people, one shot is enough protection for a lifetime. People under 65 who have a chronic illness or a weakened immune system should ask their doctor about getting another shot 5-10 years after their first one.

Both flu and pneumonia vaccines are available at the Anderson County Health Department. Currently, the health department is offering free flu shots through vaccine made available by the federal government. No appointment is necessary, so be sure to get your shot.

For more information, you can visit www.cdc.gov/diabetes/flu, or contact the Anderson County Health Department at 502-839-4511 or www.achdonline.org. 


April Thomas is a health educator for the Anderson County Health Department.