Diabetes and the Flu
By: Dr. Alan Smith
Senior Medical Director of Prescription Drug Plans, Pharmacy and Health Services, WellCare Health Plans, Inc.
During each annual flu season, campaigns are launched to convince as many people as possible to get the seasonal flu vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) annually highlights high-risk populations and urges these people to get vaccinated as soon as possible. While a lot of the flu focus falls on senior citizens, pregnant women and children, one very large group that should be especially cautious of flu virus infections is people with diabetes.
People with Type 1 and 2 diabetes have immune systems that are more vulnerable to cases of the flu. The CDC reports that people with diabetes, or diabetics, are six times more likely to be hospitalized and three times more likely to die from flu-related complications. This means that for diabetics, a case of the flu may translate into something much more serious than a few aches and pains.
The stress of being sick alone can raise blood glucose for diabetics. Additionally, many people use over-the-counter medications such as cough syrups and cough drops to ease symptoms. These medications can contain high doses of sugar, which can be dangerous for diabetics. Flu infections may also affect appetite, which can be challenging for a person who depends on proper nutrition to control glucose levels. All these factors combined can easily cause glucose levels to become more difficult to manage.
A further consideration for people with diabetes involves ketone levels. Ketone levels in the blood stream can escalate when someone is not eating normally or has an upset stomach — both of which are also common side affects of a flu virus infection. A healthy body is perfectly efficient at removing ketones, but with diabetes, ketone levels can rise to abnormal highs and ultimately put a person into a coma.
Due to the seriousness of complications that can occur, diabetics should take special precautions to guard against the flu. The CDC advocates getting vaccinated as the best defense against flu virus infections. And since flu viruses are transmitted year-round throughout populations, it is never too late to get vaccinated.
A doctor or pharmacist can help answer questions or address concerns about the annual flu vaccine. And since there are many complex scenarios that can occur when diabetes and the flu mix, it is always a good idea to ask a doctor about it, before it gets serious.
About the Author: Dr. Alan Smith is WellCare Health Plans, Inc.'s senior medical director of Prescription Drug Plans, Pharmacy and Health Services. He is board certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine.
About WellCare Health Plans, Inc.
WellCare Health Plans, Inc. provides managed care services targeted to government-sponsored health care programs, focusing on Medicaid and Medicare. Headquartered in Tampa, Florida, WellCare offers a variety of health plans for families, children, and the aged, blind, and disabled, as well as prescription drug plans. The Company served approximately 2.2 million members nationwide as of September 30, 2010. For more information about WellCare, please visit the Company's website at http://www.wellcare.com.