Diabetes and Flu Season: What you need to know
We’re in the heart of the 2024 Flu Season, and based on what we’re seeing it promises to be a pretty serious one thanks to potent influenza A and influenza B strains, which could lead to more severe outcomes among people who end up hospitalized with the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
As of January 12th, the CDC estimated that there have been at least 150,000 hospitalizations and 9,400 deaths from the flu so far this season. Despite these numbers, however, most people who contract the influenza virus will endure a week or so of flu symptoms, such as body aches, fever, sneezing, coughing, runny nose, chills and general ickiness, after which, they’ll start feeling better.
If you’re someone living with diabetes, however, the risk of experiencing severe flu symptoms and being hospitalized spike compared to those who don’t have the disease. In this post, we’ll discuss diabetes and the flu, why it poses added risks, what you can do to avoid catching it, and what to do if you end up getting sick.
Diabetes and the Flu
When people with diabetes (PWDs) get sick with the flu, it can do more than make us feel horrible. When the body fights infection, it manufactures additional glucose to wage war on the virus, causing blood sugar to elevate. Additionally, the body often releases hormones like cortisol and adrenaline to cope with the added stress illness puts on the body. These hormones can reduce the effectiveness of insulin, causing further blood sugar spikes.
Simply put, contracting the influenza virus will surely make you feel crummy. But it can also make it very hard to keep your blood sugar under control, even if you follow your normal diabetes management program and medication program.
Severity of Flu on People with Diabetes
So, we’ve established that the flu can make it harder for you to control your blood sugar leading to elevated blood glucose levels. Here’s the catch. When you have high blood sugar it becomes harder for the body to ward off infection, so the symptoms of the flu can become more severe. Studies show that people with diabetes are up to six times more likely to require hospitalization and three times more likely to die, due to the flu and its related complications than those without diabetes.
People with diabetes are more likely to develop pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections and other serious flu-related complications. Because diabetes can compromise the immune system and how effectively the body fights infection, people with the disease can expect to feel its impact far more intensely.
Avoidance is the Best Medicine – Get Your Flu Shot!
For people with diabetes, the best way to fight the flu is to take precautions to make sure you don’t get the flu in the first place. This starts with getting your flu shot!
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) points out how extra risky it is for people with diabetes to get the flu, as well as pneumococcal diseases, of which pneumonia is the most common. Flat out, the ADA recommends that every person with diabetes gets a flu shot each year. The best time to get one is in September before the season starts (so hopefully you got yours), but it’s never too late to get one prior to contracting the flu.
The ADA also points out that individuals you live with or spend an abundance of time with should also get a flu shot. It’s simply playing the odds. You are far less likely to contract the influenza virus if the people around you don’t have it.
Other Flu Prevention Tips
A flu shot, while very important, is not 100% protection against contracting the influenza virus. You should continue to take daily precautions to keep yourself safe. These include:
– Wash your hands regularly with soap and warm water. Your hands come into frequent contact with your eyes, nose, and mouth, which means they can bring the influenza virus to you.
– Carry an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and use it when contacting surfaces touched often by the general public, such as handrails, door handles, gas pumps, etc.
– Wear a mask when you are visiting indoor public areas, such as shopping malls, movie theaters, grocery stores, pharmacies, etc.
– Avoid people who you know are sick.
– Avoid large gatherings, particularly if they are held indoors.
What If You Think You Have The Flu?
Common symptoms of the flu include high fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headaches, chills, and fatigue. So what should you do if, despite your best precautionary efforts, you feel like you may have contracted the flu?
First and foremost, inform your physician. Most likely, your doctor will want you to come in and be tested to see if you have, in fact, contracted the influenza virus. If you have, there are some antiviral drugs available that you may be prescribed to lessen your flu symptoms and help prevent those more dangerous ones from developing. These medications work best when taken within the first 48 hours of contracting the virus and can make you feel better faster. Again, these drugs must be prescribed, which is why you should call your doctor the moment you start feeling sick and think you might have the flu.
If it turns out you do have the flu, it’s important to monitor your blood glucose even more closely than usual. The flu can cause blood sugar to elevate, and you may need to adjust your insulin timing and dosage to compensate. The ADA recommends checking every four hours for those with Type 1 diabetes and at least four times a day for those with Type 2 diabetes, however, it’s a good idea to create your own “sick day plan” with your diabetes physician.
It’s also important to monitor your symptoms closely. As someone living with diabetes, you are at higher risk for complications that might require hospitalization. Should your symptoms worsen or fail to improve after a few days, it is important to seek medical attention immediately.
We hope you found this post informative and insightful. At Diabetic Warehouse, we’re committed to helping those with diabetes manage blood sugar with a complete selection of testing and treatment supplies at prices up to 65% less than those found at most pharmacies and suppliers.