Flu: There’s a Vaccine for That

How the Flu Impacts People with Diabetes and Heart Disease

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.

Prevention Is the First Step—Get Your Flu Shot

Among the hundreds of thousands of people sent to the hospital 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 a few exceptions, should get a flu vaccine every year before the end of October.

The Flu and Diabetes

Problems 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 serious and can lead to a visit to the hospital and even death. Common problems from the flu include pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections and ear infections. It could also affect chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure and asthma.

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

The Flu and Heart Disease

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 problems 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 (nose) sprays. Experts recommend the flu shot for people with diabetes and/or cardiovascular disease.

The safety of nasal spray vaccines for people with these conditions is unknown. People 65 years and older should not receive a nasal spray vaccine. Instead, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommend a higher dose of the flu shot vaccine over a standard dose. This is based on recent studies suggesting a higher dose vaccine is potentially more effective for this age group. Ask your health care provider if you have questions about which 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 times of COVID-19 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 COVID-19 .

Most clinics require masks. You may be asked COVID-19 screening questions, like if you’ve been in close contact with people who have tested positive. Exam rooms and commonly used surfaces in clinics are carefully disinfected between visitors.

Vaccines Are Your Best Protection

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