Don’t get sick this season!
With winter approaching, flu season isn’t far behind.
And while nobody wants the flu, if you have diabetes, it’s especially important to take extra measures to prevent this and other types of winter illnesses. People with diabetes are at greater risk for complications because their immune systems are less able to fight off infections.
Complications of the flu range from less serious (sinus and ear infections) to potentially life-threatening (pneumonia). There are other complications that could result in hospitalization or death.
As always, the most important thing someone with diabetes can do to stay healthy is to keep blood glucose levels within the target range. But even people with well-managed diabetes need to be extra careful during flu season.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers the advice that follows on how to protect yourself (and others) from illness at this time of year.
Get your shots. Flu vaccines are approved for people with diabetes. While the flu vaccine doesn’t cover all strains of the fl and is no guarantee that you won’t become ill, it’s better than having no protection at all and may reduce symptoms even if you do get sick. The CDC recommends receiving the fly vaccine before influenza activity starts to pick up in your area — ideally by the end of October.
People with diabetes are at higher risk for pneumonia if they get the flu. The pneumococcal vaccine is recommended for all adults age 65 and older as well as those under 65 with certain medical conditions, including diabetes. Starting at age 65, it is given in two shots: PCV13, followed by PPSV23 a year later. You should not get both shots at the same time.
Practice good hygiene. Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after sneezing and coughing and before eating. To prevent spreading germs that may have come into contact with your hands, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
Try not to share germs. Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough. Viruses are spread through tiny droplets created when people cough, sneeze or talk. Don’t hang on to used tissues. Throw them away after use. If you are ill, stay home and avoid close contact with others.
Avoid those who are sick. Keep your distance from people who are known to be ill.
Keep it clean. Clean and disinfect surfaces at home, work or school frequently.
Get your ZZZs. Staying well rested helps prevent susceptibility to illness.
Eat well and drink up. Make healthy food choices and drink plenty of fluids to maintain a stronger immune system.
Manage stress. Keeping stress under control is also important for preventing illness. Remember to make time for self-care and relaxation.
IS IT THE FLU?
Flu symptoms usually appear suddenly and can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue. Children (and sometimes adults) may also experience vomiting or diarrhea. The only way to be certain if you have the flu (and not a cough or other illness) is to see your healthcare provider for a flu test, which detects influenza viruses.
Symptoms can show up one to four days following exposure to the flu virus and may last a week or more. While people are typically most contagious during the first few days of illness, it is possible to spread the virus before you even know you have it and for as long as a week after becoming sick.
MANAGING THE FLU
If you do get sick, be sure to contact your provider immediately to prevent the risk of complications. Antiviral drugs are available that can lessen flu symptoms and shorten the duration of your illness.
There are currently three FDA-approved drugs for treating the flu: oseltamivir, zanamivir and peramivir. These medications cannot be purchased over the counter, so you’ll need a prescription from your provider. They are available as pills, liquid, and inhaled powder or intravenously. Your provider will determine which is best for you.
Antiviral drugs are not the same as antibiotics, which are given to treat bacterial infections.
Pneumonia, an infection of the lungs, can be viral or bacterial. Some symptoms are similar to the flu (coughing, headache, fatigue, fever and chills), but pneumonia is also characterized by chest pain and difficulty breathing. See your provider immediately if you experience the symptoms mentioned.
It is also important to remember that any type of illness can make it more difficult to manage your diabetes and will affect blood glucose levels. So, whether you’ve got the flu or just a common head cold, be sure to follow sick day guidelines for diabetes — such as testing blood glucose levels frequently, eating as normally as possible and not skipping diabetes medications or insulin.