Diabetes Patients Should Get Flu Shots, Not Nasal Spray

Larry Hand

October 08, 2013

As the flu season approaches in the Northern Hemisphere, medical professionals, government agencies, and others are reminding physicians and patients that those with diabetes should get vaccinated — ideally with shots, rather than the nasal-spray flu vaccine, for safety reasons.

"Diabetes can weaken your immune system against the flu, and it also puts you at risk of flu-related complications," cautions Fernando Ovalle, MD, at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Medical School, in a statement from his institution.

For physicians, Medscape has a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) expert commentary on the 2013–2014 influenza season, and WebMD has a page for consumers devoted to diabetes and the flu.

Diabetic patients should also constantly track their glucose levels if they become ill, because these can be adversely affected by sickness. The American Diabetes Association, for example, suggests checking glucose levels every 3 to 4 hours and adjusting insulin levels accordingly.

Higher blood sugar levels can increase the risk for complications in diabetes, particularly short-term ones such as ketoacidosis and hyperosmolar hyperglycemic state (HHS).

And diabetic patients are also at risk for flu-related complications like pneumonia, says Dr. Ovalle, who also recommends that doctors talk to their diabetes patients about pneumococcal vaccines.

Recently released estimates show that although more Americans are getting vaccinated against flu than ever, at just over 40%, the rates could be even better. Physicians, at least, set a good example, with more than 90% of doctors getting immunized.

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