The flu shot is recommended every year for people with diabetes, both Type 1 and 2, who are more vulnerable to complications of the virus. But this year, vaccination might be especially important.
“For people with diabetes, the flu can be more than aches and pains,” a CDC brochure warns. “It can mean longer illness, hospitalization, even death. Because diabetes can make the immune system more vulnerable to severe cases of the flu. In fact, people with diabetes are almost three times more likely to die with influenza (‘the flu’) or pneumonia.”
Flu causes the deaths of 3,000 to 36,000 Americans each year.
Yet last year, flu vaccination rates among children dipped slightly, researchers reported in a study published in the journal Vaccine. The scientists conjectured that parents might have been less willing to get their children immunized because the nasal mist vaccine wasn’t available; the CDC recommended against using it after studies showed the painless spray was largely ineffective. And overall, less than half of the Americans who should have gotten a flu shot – nearly everyone 6 months and older – actually did so, according to a report in LiveScience.
This year, public health experts say, skipping the flu vaccine could be a particularly dangerous decision. Doctors are bracing for a tougher-than-usual flu season. That’s in part because cases are showing up early, but even more because the Southern Hemisphere was hit especially hard. The Southern Hemisphere experiences its flu season before ours.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen but there’s a chance we could have a season similar to Australia,” Dr. Daniel Jernigan, the CDC’s influenza chief, told the Associated Press.
The dominant strain in Australia was H3N2, which is associated with severe flu seasons. “In seasons when H3 viruses predominate, we tend to have seasons that are the worst flu years, with more hospitalizations from flu and more deaths from the flu,” former CDC director Thomas Frieden said three years ago in an article in the Los Angeles Times.
Experts say that this year’s flu vaccine – which must be produced months before flu season — appears to be a good fit for the dominant strain. That makes it an especially smart move for people with diabetes to get their shots, according to the American Association for Diabetes Educators.
“Reducing risks is one of the AADE’s seven key self-care behaviors for managing diabetes, and getting the flu shot every fall is an excellent way of reducing the risk of getting sick,” Evan Sisson, assistant professor at the Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Pharmacy, said in an AADE press release. “It’s widely available, it takes just a few minutes and it can make a real difference in your health.”
In addition to preventing the flu in hundreds of thousands of people, according to the CDC, evidence indicates that those who fall ill despite being vaccinated often have a much milder case of the disease.
Some public health experts worry that it might be more difficult to persuade pregnant women to get their flu vaccines this year, after a recent study found a small association between miscarriage and women who had received the vaccine two years in a row. At this point, the study is considered an anomaly; previous research has found the vaccine to be safe for both pregnant women and their fetuses, with no increased risk of miscarriage. Other researchers have also pointed out that the groups on which the latest study were based wasn’t randomized; the women who received the vaccinations tended to be older, which could have had an effect on the results.
Doctors and the CDC still strongly recommend the vaccine for pregnant women. Not only does it appear to be safe, but the influenza virus is considered a real threat to newborn babies. They cannot be vaccinated until they are 6 months old, but giving the vaccine to pregnant women provides protection for their newborn babies for a few months.
The CDC’s overview on the 2017-18 flu season includes information on immunization, including various options such as higher-dose vaccines for older people. You can find it here: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/flu-season-2017-2018.htm