Alert: All diabetics need flu shots

Increased risks for flu complications

Diabetics are at far greater risk of death from complications of the flu than the general population, yet fewer than half the diabetics in the United States received flu shots in a recent year.

All diabetic patients, their families, and caregivers need flu shots now to avoid infection during this flu season, which runs from now until March, warns the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta as it prepares for a severe winter.

Much greater risk from flu

Diabetics are three times as likely as the general population to die of complications from flu, more specifically pneumonia, so epidemiologists say it is essential for flu shots to be administered to every diabetic. "When they get the flu, the complications are more severe since people with diabetes are more susceptible to all types of infection," says Rodolfo Valdez, PhD, an epidemiologist in the CDC’s division of diabetes translation.

Researchers say they do not know precisely why this is so, but they theorize that diabetes compromises the immune system in general. "Pneumonia is the seventh cause of death in the United States," Valdez says, "and diabetics are three times more likely to get pneumonia and to die of pneumonia."

The CDC also recommends a pneumonia shot (pneumococcal polysaccharide) for all diabetic patients every five to ten years.

The CDC released statistics stating:

• Death rates for diabetics increase 5% to 15% during flu epidemics.

• Mortality is particularly high when multiple risk factors exist, especially for those over 65 and those with cardiovascular disease.

• People with diabetes are at increased risk of hospitalization from flu-related pneumonia.

• In a recent year, only 40% of adults with diabetes were immunized against flu and fewer than one in five against pneumococcal disease, the cause of the leading form of pneumonia.

Valdez says he is perplexed that patients and physicians do not take advantage of this safe, easy, and cheap life-protecting immunization. "They are not getting the flu shots the way they should be getting them," he says. "It could be the physician; it could be their HMO. It could be that they don’t get the word, or they don’t request it. Or maybe the doctors think that because [these patients] have diabetes, the flu shot might be damaging to them."

There have been no known serious complications from flu shots, which do not contain a live virus, according to CDC researchers.

Valdez says epidemiologists are bracing for a severe flu season this winter in the wake of National Weather Service forecasts for a colder and wetter than normal season and in the presence of the La Nina phenomenon, the cold weather-carrying antithesis of El Nino.

For more information, contact: Rodolfo Valdez, PhD, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta. Telephone: (770) 488-1050.