Flu shot has added benefits for diabetics
Flu season is approaching, and every year, people debate whether they should get the influenza vaccine, aka the flu shot. New research highlights the importance for people with diabetes, as it suggests it lessens their chances of being hospitalized.
Dr. Eszter Vamos and her colleagues recently published the findings in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, which examined seven years of data involving 125,000 people in England with type 2 diabetes. The research revealed that those who got the flu shot had less cardiovascular, respiratory and stroke issues. Severe flu complications usually occur in the elderly and patients who suffer from long-term conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and asthma.
“The objective and logic behind giving the annual influenza vaccination has always been to decrease the direct effects of influenza on those persons who are vaccinated,” says Dr. Bob Tiballi, DO MBA, Chairman of Infection Control Committee at Advocate Sherman Hospital. “The ultimate goal is to lower the 60,000 or so annual deaths in the US from influenza.”
This study showed that the flu actually stresses the infected individual in ways that were not recognized before, increasing the risk of heart attack, stroke and heart failure, says Dr. Tiballi. Retrospectively, this could be seen in the H1N1 pandemic, when heart issues were dramatically increased in people with high body mass index and glucose intolerance (diabetes and prediabetes). This complication increased the deaths of many individuals who contracted the H1N1 strain of flu.
In this study, researchers found that the flu vaccination contributed to a 30 percent lower hospital admission rate for stroke, 22 percent lower rate for heart failure and 15 percent lower rate for pneumonia or the flu. Also, the participants had a 24 percent lower death rate from all causes over the course of the seven years studied.
“This study highlights previously unrecognized cardiovascular impact the flu can increase in diabetic individuals,” says Dr. Tiballi. “It is possible, but not proven in the study, that the same conditions could be affected in otherwise nondiabetic patients as well during acute influenza infection.”
Dr. Tiballi says other studies have also shown that those among the working population who get a flu shot have decreased absences from work during the flu season by over 60 percent in healthy factory workers and by 35 percent among pediatric and other health care workers.
But what about those who say they get sick from the vaccine? Should diabetics in this group still get the vaccine?
Both Dr. Tiballi and Kathy Aureden, Infection Prevention Coordinator at Advocate Sherman Hospital, stress that the flu shot cannot cause the flu. When a vaccination results in a mild flu-like reaction, this is not an infection – it is the body’s immune response operating and functioning well to generate protection against a real flu infection. When the immune system begins its action, it begins to secrete certain chemical mediators which activate the immune system and cause the fevers, chills, muscle aches common when one has the flu. It’s important to recognize that many of the symptoms of the flu are actually side effects of the body’s own immune system, trying to fight the virus, and are not due to the virus itself.
And if a vaccinated person is exposed to and gets sick with a different respiratory virus, it is not a flu shot failure – vaccines are very specific and can only protect against a specific type of virus.
“It is disheartening that people, especially those with underlying medical conditions like diabetes, allow misconceptions about the flu vaccination to dissuade them from receiving this annual protection,” says Kathy Aureden. “Especially when it may also reduce the risk of other medical complications.”
“While influenza vaccination is not 100 percent effective in all individuals,” Dr. Tiballi says, “its goal of preventing influenza infection and also decreasing the effects of influenza infection in vaccinated individuals is still highly successful. Diabetics need to strongly consider scheduling their appointment to receive the influenza vaccine.”
About the Author
Jennifer Benson, health enews contributor, is coordinator of public affairs for Advocate Aurora Health. She has 10+ years of community development and communication experience for non-profits and has a BA in Architecture from Judson University in Elgin, IL. Outside of work, you can find her planning the next adventure near water or rocks, re-organizing spaces, working on her Master’s in Public Health, caring for her senior citizen cat, keeping to healthy moving and eating disciplines and growing green things wherever she can find room.