Diabetes and The Flu: A Dangerous Combination
Influenza (“the flu”) is a highly contagious disease that is caused by a virus. The flu spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes and another person breathes the virus on droplets of spit in the air.
People with diabetes are significantly more likely to experience complications if they catch the flu, because getting the flu can make it harder to manage diabetes.
The flu typically causes vomiting and diarrhea, which can lead to dangerous dehydration and eating problems.
The flu can cause changes in blood-sugar levels and make it harder for people with diabetes to eat the food they need to eat, which further exacerbates problems with blood-sugar management.
Furthermore, diabetes can make it harder for the immune system to fight off infections. This can prolong the illness. It also increases the risk that a person will need to be hospitalized, or die from the flu.
Diabetic patients with the flu are also at risk of ketoacidosis, a condition in which the blood becomes too acidic because the body starts burning fat for energy instead of using sugar.
The flu also increases the risk of Hyperosmolar Hyperglycaemic State (HHS), a condition involving very high blood-sugar levels that can cause coma, loss of consciousness, or death.
Experts recommend that people with diabetes get a flu shot, as well as a pneumococcal vaccine to prevent pneumococcal pneumonia.
Diabetics who get the flu should ask their doctor about prescription antiviral medications. These medications can lessen the severity of the illness if they are taken within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms.
It is also important to check blood-sugar levels every 2 to 4 hours and record readings. A doctor should be notified if the blood-sugar levels remain too high or too low.
Diabetics who get the flu may also need to check ketone levels in their urine. Furthermore, it is important to avoid becoming dehydrated because this can worsen ketoacidosis.