Diabetes & influenza (the flu) Catching the flu can be more dangerous for people with diabetes. People with diabetes are more likely to be hospitalised with the flu, and more likely to die from the flu and its complications. Everyone with diabetes should get the annual flu vaccine to reduce their risk of getting the flu. Find out where to book your jab. What is the flu? The flu is a highly contagious viral respiratory infection. It causes more severe illness than the common cold and can be life-threatening. How is the flu spread? The flu is spread in droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. If you’re nearby, you can breathe in these virus-containing droplets. You can also become infected by touching contaminated surfaces (including hands) and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes. What are the common symptoms? Flu symptoms often come on rapidly and can last for several weeks. You may experience: fever headache muscle pain and weakness dry cough dry or sore throat chest congestion stuffy nose. Flu is contagious before symptoms start. This means you can spread it to others despite showing no symptoms. Flu can make your diabetes harder to manage When you’re feeling unwell, it can be harder to eat, drink and take your diabetes medication. If this happens, your blood sugar levels can go up and down unpredictably, dragging out the effects of the flu and increasing your risk of serious complications like pneumonia. Being unwell can cause our body to make more stress hormones, which can also raise blood glucose levels. You might find it more difficult to spot changes in blood glucose levels when you’re unwell. And because diabetes can impair your immune system and affect your body’s ability to fight the flu, it puts you at greater risk of needing to go to hospital. What to do if you get the flu If you have flu symptoms, the first step is to talk to your GP. You might be prescribed antivirals to shorten the time you’re ill and prevent serious health problems. Medication works best when taken within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. So contact your doctor as soon as you feel unwell. If you live with diabetes, start following your sick day management plan. A sick day management plan should outline whether you need to monitor blood glucose levels and/ or ketones, whether you need to change any of your medications while unwell and when to seek urgent medical care. If you don’t have a sick day management plan, discuss this with your doctor, endocrinologist or diabetes educator at your next appointment so that you are ready the next time you become unwell. Always seek urgent medical attention if your symptoms worsen. The flu vaccine and diabetes Vaccination is one of the best forms of defence against the flu. You can still catch the flu even if you’ve had the flu vaccine, but your symptoms should be milder and your risk of hospitalisation and death lower. For adults and children aged six months and over, getting vaccinated is recommended every year. Vaccination helps to slow the spread of the flu in the community and reduces the burden on hospitals. When should you get the flu jab? Book your flu vaccination for late April or early May. Getting the jab then will protect you during peak flu season, which is June to September. Is the flu jab free? If you live with diabetes, you can get a free flu vaccination from your GP and some community pharmacies. The flu jab is also free for: people aged 65 and older pregnant women all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged six months or over people aged six months and older with medical conditions that increase the risk of complications from the flu, including diabetes children six months to five years old. The flu and COVID-19 You can catch COVID-19 and the flu at the same time, particularly as both viruses are spread in similar ways. Getting both at the same time puts your immune system under extra strain. If you have diabetes, there’s a higher risk of becoming seriously ill. If you’ve had COVID-19, it doesn’t mean you have immunity to the flu. And if you’ve had a COVID-19 vaccine, it will protect against COVID-19 only. This is why it’s important to protect yourself against both viruses by getting your annual flu shot, and your COVID-19 vaccination and boosters. References: Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care, Canberra, 2022, Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) Australian immunisation handbook NSW Health, 2022, Antivirals for influenza – information for prescribers National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, 2022, Influenza vaccines for Australians fact sheet Frequently asked questions about the flu shot No. You can’t get the flu from the flu jab because it doesn’t contain live virus. You may get muscle aches, a slight fever or a headache for a day or two. This is due to your immune system’s response to the vaccine. Flu vaccine effectiveness ranges from 40-60% depending on the circulating flu viruses in a given year. If you do get the flu after your flu shot, the illness is usually much milder than if you were unvaccinated, and it reduces your risk of hospitalisation and death. Yes. All vaccines registered and approved for use in Australia have been rigorously assessed by the Therapeutic Goods Association and meet strict safety standards. Flu viruses mutate extremely quickly. Immunity to a previous virus may not protect against future viruses. A new flu shot is developed every year to protect you from the viruses you’re most likely to encounter. As you get older, your immune system doesn’t respond as strongly to the general flu vaccine as younger people’s. An enhanced flu vaccine is designed to stimulate a greater immune response. Talk with your GP about which one is recommended for you or your family. Yes. You can get your flu jab at the same time as a COVID-19 vaccination. Simultaneous vaccines are safe and effective, according to the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation. Talk to your GP to see if this is right for you.