It's Flu Season, and you have diabetes...
People with diabetes are at "high risk" for complications from the flu. Both the flu and COVID-19 have higher risk of complications in those with diabetes. Last year, our flu season was relatively low, most likely due to the masking and social distancing practices that were in place to protect us from COVID, and that also worked to protect us from the flu but as our communities begin to open, this may not be the case this year. Research has shown that people with diabetes are more likely to be hospitalized or to require intensive care if they develop the flu compared to people who do not have diabetes. The flu vaccine has been shown to reduce hospitalization rates by up to 70%. Therefore, our Diabetes Canada 2018 Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Prevention and Management of Diabetes in Canada recommend:
"All people with diabetes should receive an annual influenza immunization"
What is seasonal flu?
It is a common and highly contagious respiratory infection that affects the nose, throat, and lungs. Flu strains change from year to year, therefore it is important to get your flu shot every year. If you think you may have the flu, you should stay home and self-isolate.
When is flu season?
It typically occurs between November and April.
Where can I get a flu shot?
Most children and adults can receive their flu shots from their doctor, participating pharmacies, or some public health units. Pharmacies do not typically vaccinate children < 2 yrs.
The flu and COVID-19:
Like the flu virus, those with diabetes can be susceptible to more severe infections and complications if they contract the COVID-19 virus. Health authorities continue to recommend both COVID and flu vaccines and to practise all the behaviours suggested by Public Health: hand washing, social distancing and wearing a mask when you cannot safely distance, which go a long way to protecting yourself and others from both the flu and COVID-19.
Click here to read an article from the World Health Organization that helps explain some of the differences between COVID-19 and the common flu. Many of the symptoms of COVID-19 and the flu are similar and it may be hard to tell the difference. You may require a COVID test to determine a diagnosis.
Public Health Ontario advises anyone with flu symptoms to get COVID tested and self isolate at home for 14 days or until your test results come back negative for COVID-19.
How do I manage my diabetes during cold and flu season?
- Get the flu shot. It is one of your best defences against the flu.
- Get the pneumonia vaccine. Pneumovax can help protect against many strains of pneumonia. Unlike the flu shot, you only need it once and it lasts for years.
- Have a sick-day plan. Discuss your plans for sick days with your diabetes education team before getting sick, as well as what medications are safe to take to treat your symptoms.
- Get the COVID-19 vaccine.
- Purchase diabetes-friendly cold products. Buy sugar-free cough syrup, avoid decongestants, and try a saline nasal spray instead.
- Ask for help if you need it. Ask a family member or friend to check on you until you feel better, and ensure they know when to a call a doctor, if needed.
- Check blood sugars often. When you're sick, aim for every 2 to 4 hours until the cold or flu has subsided.
- Take medications on schedule. Even if having trouble keeping food down, take your diabetes medication on schedule. Be sure to call your doctor if you have questions about when or how much to take.
- Drink fluids regularly. Make sure you stay hydrated. Consider ice chips if you're having trouble keeping fluids down.
- Test your urine for ketones. If your blood sugar is over 14 mmol/L test your urine for ketones. This can be dangerous, so inform your doctor if the test is positive.
- Prep your pantry. Keep a variety of items on hand, such as canned soups, fruits, and vegetables. Consider having some gingerale (regular, not diet) in case you need some fluids with carbohydrates.
When do I call my doctor?
- Your cold or flu symptoms don't start to get better in about 72 hours or if they get worse.
- Your blood sugar levels are too high or too low and you aren't able to adjust them.
- You have ketones in your urine.
- You have abdominal pain.
- You have a fever of 38.5 degrees or higher.
- You have ongoing diarrhea or vomiting.
- You're experiencing shortness of breath, dizziness, or any loss of consciousness.
- You're having a hard time thinking clearly or staying awake.
For more information on the seasonal flu and how to protect yourself, click here
Some information adapted from an article by Everyday Health