Get Your Flu and Pneumonia Shots

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Flu season is getting under way, and if you have not done so already this year, it’s time to get your flu shot. People with diabetes age 2 and older will also benefit from being vaccinated against pneumonia.

According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), “Every person with diabetes needs a flu shot each year.” The ADA also recommends that people with diabetes encourage the people they live with or spend a lot of time with to be vaccinated as well—this will decrease their chances of being exposed to the flu by the people around them.

People who have diabetes should be vaccinated against the flu by injection, not by the nasal-spray flu vaccine (also called the Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine, or “LAIV,” brand name FluMist). That’s because the nasal-spray vaccine contains weakened live viruses (unlike the injection, which contains killed viruses), and therefore is not appropriate for people with diabetes, who are at higher risk of developing influenza-related complications.

The sooner you can be vaccinated the better, since the flu shot takes about two weeks to take effect in the body. However, if you have a cold or other respiratory illness, wait until you have recovered to get a shot. Also, people who are allergic to eggs should not get a flu shot because the viruses used in the vaccine are grown in hens’ eggs.

To find out where flu shots are available near you, click here to visit The American Lung Association’s Flu Clinic Locator Site. At the site, you can also sign up to have a yearly vaccination reminder e-mailed to you. If you have questions about the flu vaccine, check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Q&A page on the subject.

Getting a pneumococcal vaccine (often referred to as the “pneumonia” shot), is also particularly important for people who have diabetes. A study of more than 30,000 adults, published in the September issue of the journal Diabetes Care, found that people with Type 2 diabetes who were hospitalized with pneumonia had a 19% to 25% greater risk of dying than people who didn’t have diabetes. These findings stress not only the importance of getting a pneumococcal vaccine when you have diabetes, but also the importance of controlling blood glucose levels when you are sick (developing a sick-day plan with your doctor can help with this). Participants in the study whose blood glucose levels were 252 mg/dl or higher upon admission to the hospital with pneumonia had between a 46% and 91% increased risk of dying.

The pneumococcal vaccine is aimed at the cases of pneumonia that are caused by the bacteria streptococcus pneumoniae. This bacteria triggers one-third to one-half of all cases of pneumonia (other causes include viruses and parasites). In addition to protecting against pneumonia, the vaccine also offers protection against bacteremia (a potentially fatal infection of the blood) and meningitis (a potentially fatal infection of the covering of the brain). That’s because these other infections are caused by the same bacteria that can cause pneumonia. The pneumococcal vaccine reduces a person’s chance of developing the most serious forms of pneumonia, meningitis, bacteremia, and death from these causes by about 60%.

Even when the vaccine doesn’t prevent a person from developing pneumonia, it may help keep him from developing a serious case or dying. A study published in the October 8 issue of the journal Archives of Internal Medicine looked at 3,400 elderly people admitted to the hospital with pneumonia. The study found that those people who had previously received a pneumococcal vaccine were 40% less likely to die or end up in intensive care than those who never got a pneumonia shot.

Best of all, one pneumonia shot (which you can get at any time of year) offers most people protection from these conditions for a lifetime. People under 65 who have a chronic health condition, such as diabetes, may need to repeat their vaccination 5–10 years after their first shot; they should discuss this with their health-care provider.

Some flu vaccination clinics also offer the pneumococcal vaccine, or you can talk to your health-care provider about getting this vaccine at your next appointment.

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