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Diabetics and the flu: sidebar to influenza story (1-13-00)

Does the flu season hit diabetics harder? What extra precautions should be taken?

"We know that diabetics are more susceptible to infections in general. For reasons we donít completely understand, this patient group is immune compromised," said Jan. E. Patterson, M.D., professor of medicine and pathology at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. Dr. Patterson is a faculty member in the Division of Infectious Diseases and medical director of infection control at University Hospital.

Like other flu sufferers, diabetic patients start out with symptoms of sudden onset, high fever, muscle aches and malaise. But diabetics may be more likely to suffer post-influenza complications such as bacterial pneumonia, which is marked by persistent fever and development of productive cough, Dr. Patterson said.

Individuals ages 25 to 64 who have diabetes are four times more likely to die with influenza and pneumonia than individuals who do not have diabetes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is coordinating a Diabetes and Flu/Pneumococcal Campaign. Unfortunately, about half of the diabetics in this group do not get an annual flu shot, the CDC literature states.

Diabetics and their families must be especially careful about maintaining proper glucose level during infections. "In general, when diabetics have infections, the glucose level may be harder to control," Dr. Patterson said.

Should persons with diabetes be overly concerned if someone in the family comes down with the flu? "Be concerned but not paranoid," Dr. Patterson said. "Take reasonable precautions such as washing hands and avoiding individuals who have influenza." In this situation, the diabetic individual may want to call a physician to ask about taking a flu medicine such as Relenza or Tamiflu. Flu vaccine takes one to two weeks to become effective, too late to help if infection already is beginning.

Contact: Will Sansom