As the cold and flu season kicks into high gear, so too do concerns about getting sick, especially for diabetics, and those with a compromised immune system. Diabetics with flu or other communal infections (such as bacterial menengitis) face an increased risk of severe infections and complications. Since I work at a public institution which educates tens of thousands of students, flu vaccines are mandatory. But as a diabetic for over 20 years, getting vaccinated is an easy choice no matter what. It's a no-brainer, for me anyway.
Despite the fact that the influence diabetes has on the function of natural immunity has long been studied, different schools of thought exist when it comes to vaccinations. It's best to talk to your doctor or health practitioner about what course of action may be right for you. Personally, every endo and doctor I've ever had (and I've had mostly excellent ones!) has been pro-vaccination for me, in large part because of my Type 1 diabetes.
Leading health organizations such as the CDC and diabetes associations like the ADA strongly suggest diabetics get immunized against this year's likely strain of the flu (and recommend doing so early in the season--like September--especially for children [over two] and those over 65).
But if like many, you've not yet been vaccinated (or are on the fence about whether to do so), here are five considerations to chew on:
- Diabetes makes it harder to fight off viruses that cause flu. It takes around two weeks for the vaccine to take effect and help protect against flu. Being vaccinated early helps.
- Flu and infections pile added stress on your body, which often raise blood sugar levels and also increase the opportunity for more serious infections to develop.
- Flu often leads to dehydration, which leads to elevated bloodsugars. This is because the concentration of glucose, which is circulating in the blood, increases as blood volume decreases as a result of your body losing water. Not only does dehydration increase blood glucose levels, but high bloodsugars exacerbate dehydration because the body disposes of the excess glucose in the urine, leading to increased water loss.
- Diabetics are around three times more likely to die from flu and pneumonia according to the ADA. [NOTE: Less than 1 in 3 diabetics is immunized against pneumonia.]
- Diabetes and illness, inflammation, or infection don't mix. Diabetes makes it ketones in your urine. If ketones are high, your body can go into a coma. [*NOTE* If your ketone test is high, call your doctor immediately.
Of course, being immunized is not a guarantee you won't get sick. If you do fall ill, be sure to see a health practitioner as soon as possible, and keep the following things in mind:
- Most over-the-counter medications for flu and infections are high in sugar. Cold and flu drugs, cough drops and liquid cough medicines tend to be high in carbs and sugar. Ask your pharmacist for sugar-free or low sugar options.
- The body's ability to properly mediate inflammation is affected by diabetes, particularly when higher than normal bloodsugars (especially sustained hyperglycemia) exist. The body has to fight extra hard to get well, so it's not exactly totally on it's game. It's essential to monitor and respond mindfully to your body's reactions and bloodsugars. Testing at least every couple hours is recommended.
- Keep your fluids up! Drink at least a cup of clear fluids every hour. Water is best. If your blood sugar is low, try a sports drink with electrolytes but be mindful of the carb content. Aim for around 15 grams of carbs per cup if possible.
- Pneumonia shots are also important to consider. Talk to your doctor if you've not had one. According to the ADA, diabetics are around three times more likely to die from flu and pneumonia, including bacterial menengitis.
- Being diabetic and "real person sick" is no picnic. Diabetics often require more insulin when sick, and checking your bloodsugar every couple hours is required, especially if your blood sugar is too high.
Every body is different, and no one belief is right or wrong. However, in my experience the pros outweigh the cons when it comes to diabetics being vaccinated against illnesses such as influenza, pneumonia, and bacterial menengitis. What are your thoughts on the issue?