For Diabetics, Flu Shot Is a Must

Even if you take insulin every day (as I do), plunging a needle into your skin never gets comfortable—which is why I try to avoid additional, unnecessary pokes.

Until this year, I’ve always put the flu vaccine in that category.

I don’t get the flu and I seldom get colds. Plus, the few times I’ve had the vaccine I’ve felt miserable, something I have in common with other people who get the flu shot. (Read this before you get the flu shot.)

But avoiding the flu vaccine because I don’t like extra sticks or because I feel bad for a few days may be irresponsible. Diabetics need to get the flu shot, says Dr. Tony Fiore, an epidemiologist and flu expert with the Centers for Disease Control.

“Persons with a variety of complicated medical conditions are at higher risk of flu complications,” Dr. Fiore says. “They’re not necessarily at higher risk of getting the flu, but they’re more at risk of getting a more severe case of it.”

Diabetics are at extra risk for opportunistic flu complications, because the disease suppresses the immune system, and most diabetics take longer to overcome infections. “They know from their own experience that it takes them longer to heal a cut on their foot. They have a lesser ability to fight infections,” says Dr. Fiore.

For older diabetics with coexisting conditions, such as heart disease or hypertension, the common flu bug could lead to bacterial pneumonia, dehydration, or the worsening of those other illnesses. According to the CDC, each year more than 200,000 Americans are hospitalized with complications from the flu—and 36,000 die.

Even in the healthiest diabetics, the flu can lead to major issues with blood sugar control, says Barbara Mahon, MD, a pediatrician and director of medical affairs at Novartis Vaccines, one of the makers of the flu vaccine.

“Influenza can lead to an exacerbation of their diabetes,” she says. “Not getting the flu vaccine is a missed opportunity to protect yourself.”

Still, according to CDC estimates, only 50% of diabetics get a flu shot in any given year. This flu season, I’m trying to tip the scales over that halfway mark. Want to join me?


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