It’s that time of year again: flu season. If you haven’t already done so,
you should be headed out the door
now to get your annual vaccine
against influenza or, as it is usually
called, the flu.
The flu is a highly contagious respiratory illness that is caused by a
virus. Symptoms of the flu include
cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy
nose, body aches, headache, and
fatigue, all of which can range from
mild to severe. Often the flu is
accompanied by fever, with its usual
symptoms of alternating chills and
uncomfortable warmth. While most
flu symptoms involve the respiratory
tract, vomiting and diarrhea can also
occur; these symptoms are more
common in children than adults.
Most people recover from the
flu within a few days to less than
two weeks. However, some people
develop serious and sometimes life-threatening complications from
the flu. Such complications may
include secondary infections such
as pneumonia, bronchitis, and ear
or sinus infections, or the worsening of a preexisting chronic condition such as asthma or congestive
Diabetes and the flu
If you have diabetes, you are considered at high risk for getting the flu
and for developing complications,
even if your blood glucose is well
controlled. This is because diabetes
can impair your immune system’s
ability to fight off an attacking virus
such as the flu. Then, once you
catch the flu, your body may
respond negatively in several ways to
the stress of being sick. During times
of stress, the body releases stress hormones such as epinephrine (
adrenaline) and cortisol, which raise your
heart rate and blood pressure. Epinephrine—along with glucagon, a
hormone produced by alpha cells in
the pancreas—also causes the liver
to release stored glucose, leading to
elevated blood glucose levels in
many people with diabetes.
Here are some tips to keep you
healthy during flu season:
■ Talk with your health-care provider about a flu prevention plan.
■ Get your annual flu shot as soon
as it becomes available.
■ Wash your hands often with soap
and water, and keep hand sanitizer
on hand for backup.
■ Avoid hand-to-face contact, which
can spread bacteria and viruses.
■ Follow a healthy diet and perform moderate physical activity to
help keep your body strong and
resistant to viruses.
■ Follow your blood glucose management regimen to maintain a
strong immune system.
■ Talk to members of your household about getting a flu shot; when
they are protected from the flu,
they’re less likely to give it to you.
Being ill can also make you feel
less like eating and disrupt your
regular meal plan, which can make
blood glucose levels even more
erratic. It is thus possible for the flu
to lead to acute diabetes complications such as ketoacidosis—a life-threatening condition brought
about by a lack of insulin, and
marked by extremely high blood
glucose and often a fruity odor in
the breath—or to dangerous hypoglycemia (low blood glucose),
depending on the balance of hormones and food intake during the
The best defense against the flu is
prevention, which means getting
vaccinated against the virus. The
Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC) recommends
that people at high risk for the flu
get a flu shot to help protect them-
selves and those around them (see
“Who Should Get a Flu Shot?” on
page 34). The vaccine should be
taken once a year, ideally in Sep-
tember or October or as soon as it
becomes available to the public.
Once you get your flu shot, it will
take about two weeks for your body
to develop antibodies, which are
proteins used by your immune sys-
tem to identify and destroy the
viruses that cause the flu. If you
miss the vaccine in the early fall,
keep in mind that flu season gener-
ally peaks in the winter months, so
you can still benefit from getting a
flu shot later in the year.