Important Vaccines for Diabetics

August is just coming to a close, but I wanted to discuss something important before the month ended.  Since August is National Immunization Awareness Month, I would like to take some time to talk about the recommended immunizations for diabetics.  You see, vaccines are not just something that we should give our kids; they are important to adults too.  And did you know that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have a list of vaccinations that they recommend for people with diabetes?  Let me tell you about them.

Influenza: The first vaccine that I always recommend for diabetics is the yearly flu vaccine.  If you did not know, the flu vaccine prevents a respiratory infection called influenza.  A common misconception is that the flu that the vaccine targets is the stomach flu.  This is not the case.  Signs of influenza are similar to a cold: sudden high fever, chills, body aches, runny nose, sore throat, headache, and dry cough.  Influenza is caused by a virus that likes to mutate and change itself over time, which is why you need a new flu shot every year.

Many people think that influenza is not that serious, but they are very wrong.  Did you know that thousands of people are hospitalized every year due to influenza?  And every year hundreds and sometimes thousands die from complications of influenza infection.  The CDC does not have an exact count on these deaths because it is difficult to record, but does it matter?  Isn’t one death that could have been prevented one too many?  The majority of those deaths are in people aged 65 or over and in those with other conditions that make their body more susceptible, such as (you guessed it!) diabetes.

What is it about diabetes that makes you more likely to have complications from influenza?  Well, remember that diabetes is a disease within your blood, so it touches everything!  Diabetes makes it harder for your immune system to fight off severe infections, like influenza.  Also, sickness can cause your blood sugar levels to rise – exactly what we don’t want to happen when you are diabetic.  And if you are really sick, you probably don’t feel like eating.  This will make your blood sugar levels erratic, a bad thing for a diabetic that is trying to win their war against the disease.  Even those who have their diabetes under control are still at an increased risk of complications from diabetes, so EVERY diabetic should discuss receiving an annual flu vaccine with their doctor.

And a final note: no, you cannot get the flu from the flu shot.  it is not possible.  The virus in the vaccine is dead.  Some people have gotten influenza after receiving a flu shot, but that is just a case of bad timing – they already had influenza when they got the shot, but were not yet feeling sick.  You cannot get sick from a dead virus.  And if you got a stomach ache or nausea and diarrhea after your flu shot, remember that is not the type of flu that we are talking about.

Hepatitis B: Hepatitis B is a liver disease that is spread through blood and body fluids.  In 2011 the CDC released new recommendations stating that all unvaccinated diabetics under the age of 60 should receive the hepatitis B vaccine.  Diabetics over the age of 60 should discuss the vaccine with their doctors to make a decision because the vaccine becomes less effective as we age.

People with type 1 and type 2 diabetes have higher rates of hepatitis B than the rest of the population.  Many of these infections happen in nursing homes and other long term care facilities, or in other situations where people are sharing their blood sugar meters and testing supplies.  Hepatitis B can be spread by coming into contact with a contaminated lancet or syringe that has been used by someone with hepatitis B.  This is why it is very important not to share your diabetic testing supplies or your insulin syringes with anyone.  The hepatitis B vaccine is 50 to 100 times more infectious than HIV and can survive on surfaces outside the body for at least a week.  This makes it very easily transmitted to healthy people.  Again, this is another disease that does not have to happen if you take the time to get a simple vaccine.  The hepatitis B vaccine is given in a series of three shots over six months, and all shots are required for full protection.

These are the two main vaccines that are specifically recommended for diabetics.  However, the CDC also suggests keeping up-to-date on all other vaccines as well.  I will list the other recommended adult vaccines in the United States, for your knowledge.  Please talk to your local doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions.

Pneumococcal Vaccine:  The pneumococcal vaccine prevents infections in the lungs (pneumonia), blood (bacteremia), and the covering of the brain (meningitis).

Tetanus/Diphtheria (Td) Toxoid: Tetanus (lockjaw) is a bacterial infection caused when the germ enters your body through a wound or cut.  Diphtheria is a contagious respiratory disease that is spread through coming into contact, usually through a cough or a sneeze, with respiratory droplets from another infected person.  The two diseases are targeted in a combination vaccine.

For further information on diabetics and vaccines, please refer to the CDC’s website here.

As a disclaimer, I am your “virtual” pharmacist, here to provide you with information and answers to questions.  However, I am not your local pharmacist and could, in no way, be aware of your specific medical needs.  Remember to always check with your medical provider and pharmacist before stopping or starting any new medications.  My posts are based on general pharmacy principles and should not considered as your “first opinion” when it comes to your health.  Please consult with your doctor and pharmacist about anything regarding your health.

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