What to Know About the Flu if You Have Diabetes

An article from the UVM Health Network 2019 Flu Education series

With Brianne Jeror, NP, University of Vermont Health Network
Alice Hyde Medical Center, Primary Care


Another flu season is right around the corner. A seasonal flu vaccine is the best way to protect against it and any potentially serious complications.

Immunity can take up to two weeks to develop after getting the vaccine, so getting your flu shot and helping to protect your friends, family and loved ones from seasonal influenza is everyone’s responsibility.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every year, with rare exceptions. But for some groups, seasonal influenza is particularly dangerous.

Risks for Patients With Diabetes

Patients with diabetes (both type 1 and type 2) are a group at high risk of serious complications from seasonal influenza. Diabetes can weaken the immune system and make it more difficult to fight off infections, making complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinus and ear infections more likely.

Flu can also make chronic conditions like diabetes worse, by depressing your appetite and making it harder to control your blood sugar.

The best protection? The flu vaccine

The best way to protect yourself from the flu is to get a flu vaccine. For those with diabetes, the CDC recommends the injectable vaccine, and there is a precaution against the use of nasal spray flu vaccine in people with diabetes.

What do I do if I get the flu?

If you do contract the flu, or suspect you might have the flu, it is important to contact your primary care provider quickly. Prescription flu medication, also known as antivirals, can make your illness milder and work best within 48 hours of getting sick. 

Sick day guidelines for people with diabetes

For those with diabetes it is also important to know and follow the CDC’s sick day guidelines. These preparatory measures include:

  •   • Keeping anti-diarrhea and anti-vomiting medicines and easy-to-fix foods in your home.
  •   • Testing your blood glucose every four hours, and recording the results
  •   • Continue taking your diabetes pills or insulin as usual

People with diabetes should call their doctor or go to an emergency room if any of the following occurs:

  •   • Moderate to high ketone levels in your urine
  •   • Unable to keep any liquids down for more than 4 hours
  •   • Lose 5 pounds or more during an illness
  •   • Blood glucose is lower than 60 mg/dl or remains over 250 mg/dl on 2 checks
  •   • Feeling too sick to eat normally and are unable to keep food down for more than 24 hours
  •   • Vomiting and/or severe diarrhea for more than 6 hours
  •   • Temperature is over 101 degrees Fahrenheit  for 24 hours
  •   • Having trouble breathing
  •   • Feeling sleepy or can’t think clearly

Be sure to contact your primary care provider to discuss which type of flu vaccination is right for you and learn more about how you can best protect yourself and those around you from seasonal influenza.