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Flu: There’s a Vaccine for That

How the Flu Impacts People with Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease (CVD)

People with diabetes or heart disease have a much higher risk of serious flu-related complications compared to others, so it is important to get your flu shot every year. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is even more important to get your flu shot this year.

Prevention Is the First Step—Get Your Flu Shot

Among the hundreds of thousands of people hospitalized during last year’s flu season, nearly one in three had diabetes and nearly one in two had heart disease. Studies show that flu shots reduce hospitalizations among people with diabetes by 79%.

Flu season typically begins in October each year and ends in early to mid-spring. Every person over six months of age, with few exceptions, should get a flu vaccine every year before the end of October.

Despite the relatively low cost of a flu vaccine and the higher risk of illness if you don’t get one, 30% of people with health insurance are not vaccinated for the flu. Among the uninsured, the percentage of people who are not vaccinated increases to 60%, and one in three people with heart disease are not vaccinated.

The flu vaccine helps keep us from getting sick from the flu, reducing the risk of flu by between 40% and 60%. If you get a vaccine this year and still get the flu, it should be a milder case than you would have had without it.

The Flu and Diabetes

Complications from the flu are more common for people with diabetes because diabetes impacts the immune system’s ability to fight infections

Some flu complications are severe and can lead to hospitalization and even death. Common complications from the flu include pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections and ear infections.

The flu can also make managing diabetes more difficult. As with other illness, having the flu can affect your ability to manage your blood sugar and can lead to dangerous complications of high or low blood sugar levels. The flu, its treatments and dehydration from not getting enough fluids can raise blood sugar. Sometimes, people with the flu have trouble eating, which can cause their blood sugar levels to drop dangerously low. In turn, it’s important people with diabetes get a flu shot to lower their risk for flu and pay particular attention if they have any flu-like symptoms.

The Flu and CVD

People with heart disease and stroke also have a higher risk of developing serious complications from the flu. The risk of having a heart attack is six times higher for adults over 35 during the week of a flu diagnosis because flu-related complications can put stress on the heart

Pneumonia, a flu-related complication, limits the amount of oxygen the lungs can pass into the blood. This puts additional strain on the heart. The heart also has to work harder to supply the lungs with blood during a pneumonia infection.

Which Type of Flu Vaccine Should I Get?

There are two main ways flu vaccines are given—injections (the flu shot) and nasal sprays. Experts recommend the flu shot for people with diabetes or CVD.

The safety of nasal spray vaccines for people with these conditions is unknown. Ask your health care provider if you have questions about which way to get the flu vaccine is right for you.

Flu Vaccinations During COVID-19

Flu vaccines are important for everyone, every year, but getting a flu shot is even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic to keep you as healthy as possible and to help hospitals manage the increased number of people they’re seeing.

Almost all primary care physicians provide flu shots in their offices, and many pharmacies offer flu shots too. Medical providers are working hard to keep visitors safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. When you make an appointment for your flu vaccine, ask what new policies have been put in place to protect people from contracting COVID-19. This will help you feel comfortable and know what to expect when you arrive.

Most clinics require masks and limit the number of people allowed in the building. You may be asked COVID-19 screening questions, like if you’ve been in close contact with people who have tested positive. Most health offices will take your temperature and promote social distancing. Exam rooms and commonly used surfaces are carefully disinfected between visitors.

Vaccines Are Your Best Protection

Getting a flu shot reduces your risk of becoming sick or having serious complications, this is especially important for people with diabetes or heart disease. Schedule your flu shot today to make sure you are protected this season.