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.
Keep reading to learn how the flu impacts people with diabetes and cardiovascular disease. We’ll also explore which type of flu vaccine you should get and what to expect when getting a flu vaccine during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prevention Is the First Step—Get Your Flu Shot
Among the hundreds of thousands of people hospitalized during last year’s flu season, nearly 1 in 3 had diabetes and nearly 1 in 2 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 6 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 1 in 3 people with heart disease are not vaccinated.
The flu vaccine helps keep us from getting sick from the flu, reducing the risk of flu illness 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 viral infections, the flu can elevate blood glucose levels and can occasionally result in a dangerous condition called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). Sometimes, people with the flu have trouble eating, which can cause their blood glucose levels to drop dangerously low.
The Flu and Cardiovascular 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 6 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 types of flu vaccines—injections (the flu shot) and nasal sprays. Experts recommend the flu shot for people with diabetes or cardiovascular disease.
The safety of nasal spray vaccines for people with these conditions is unknown. 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 the COVID-19 pandemic to keep you as healthy as possible and to help hospitals manage the increased number of patients they have.
Almost all primary care physicians provide flu shots in their offices, and many pharmacies offer flu shots at locations across the country. 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 the coronavirus. This will help you feel comfortable and help you know what to expect when you arrive.
Most medical 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 at the door 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. Schedule your flu shot today to make sure you are protected this season.