Diabetes And The Flu: What You Need To Know

Flu season seems to creep up on us every year. Every year we hear of our coworkers, friends, and neighbors coming down with the aches, pains, fevers, and stomach troubles that the flu brings, and we hope it doesn’t happen to us. Having the flu is miserable for anyone, but for people with diabetes it can be especially dangerous. People with diabetes are 3 times more likely to be hospitalized from the flu and the complications it causes.

But while it’s impossible to avoid ever getting sick, it’s also not necessary to rely on luck alone to stay healthy. Your chances of avoiding the flu or fighting it off successfully increase when you have a game plan.

Strategy #1: Prevention

Grandma said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and when you’re lying in bed feeling like your life is ending, you’ll wish you had been able to prevent getting the flu.

The best way to do so is to get your flu shot. The CDC recommends getting the actual shot instead of the nasal spray. It’s well-established that the flu shot is safe for people with diabetes. The shot cannot 100% guarantee that you will not get sick as it doesn’t protect against all strains of flu, but if you do get sick after a flu shot you are at less risk for serious complications and will likely not suffer as much as if you didn’t get the shot.

It’s recommended that you get the flu shot by the end of October as it takes about 2 weeks to become fully effective. Flu season is typically in the wintertime, but can begin as early as October and go all the way through May. Some employers offer free flu shots for employees, so be sure to watch for free clinics or ask your HR department about offering one. If that’s not an option, you can get one from your doctor, and many pharmacies offer walk-in vaccinations. And if you miss October, it’s still a good idea to get a flu shot—the better-late-than-never principle applies!

The second best prevention strategy is to stop the spread of germs by washing your hands thoroughly and often, and by sanitizing frequently-touched surfaces in your house. Remember that someone can be contagious even before they start experiencing symptoms, so just because someone looks healthy doesn’t mean they can’t spread germs. Since you can’t wash your hands 24 hours a day, avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes. Stay vigilant to stay healthy!

Strategy #2: Early Intervention

If prevention fails, it’s time to move to plan B. Your doctor may prescribe you antiviral drugs since people with diabetes are at higher risk of serious flu-related complications. Antiviral drugs lessen symptoms and decrease your sick time, but they work best when administered within 48 hours of your first symptoms, so don’t be shy about getting in contact with your doctor!

Be sure to drink extra fluids and try to keep eating normally if you can. Your body needs extra fluids and the normal amount of calories to fight off sickness. And if you are vomiting or have diarrhea, you are at higher risk for dehydration, so keep sipping water or zero-calorie drinks. You may not feel like eating (or not be able to keep things down), but do your best to consume some easy-to-digest foods so that your body isn’t fighting sickness on empty. Shoot for 45 to 50 grams of carbohydrates every 3 to 4 hours.

“NEXT” for how to manage diabetes with the flu

Katie Taylor started writing in 5th grade and hasn't stopped since. Her favorite place to pen a phrase is in front of her fireplace with a cup of tea, but she's been known to write in parking lots on the backs of old receipts if necessary. She and her husband live cozily in the Pacific Northwest enjoying rainy days and Netflix.