People living with diabetes (adults and children, pregnant women) should get their free NHS flu jab to reduce their risk of getting the flu. This is because people with diabetes are at increased risk of becoming seriously ill from the flu.
If you are eligible we recommend that you take up the offer of the coronavirus (Covid-19) vaccine also.
What is flu?
Flu (seasonal influenza) is a common viral illness. You can catch it all year round but it’s more common in winter. The flu is different from a common cold virus. The symptoms of flu often start very suddenly, are more severe and can last longer.
Why you should get the flu jab when you have diabetes
If you have diabetes and get the flu, you are more at risk of being unwell for longer and developing more serious complications like pneumonia. Getting a flu jab is the most effective way to protect yourself from flu. Flu can also make your diabetes harder to manage and cause your blood sugar levels to rise. Having the flu also increases your risk of getting diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA).
You can’t get the flu from the flu vaccine, but it takes about two weeks to work so you could still get the flu during that time. That’s why it’s important to get the vaccine as soon as you can, ideally in autumn or early winter, before the flu starts spreading.
The flu virus can change from one winter to the next. A flu vaccine protects you against the most common types of flu currently around. As this changes each year, it means you need a new vaccine each year too.
The flu vaccine gives you the best protection against flu. They can protect you from the most common strains of flu, but not all strains so there’s a chance you might still get the flu. However, people who have had the flu vaccine normally experience a milder illness from the flu than people who haven’t had it.
Douglas Twenefour, Head of Care at Diabetes UK, said:
"If you have diabetes and get the flu, you are at increased risk of becoming very unwell. We must do all we can to get protected against flu this year. That’s why the NHS flu vaccine is so important."
How is the flu jab given?
All adult flu vaccines are given as an injection (flu jab) into the muscle of the upper arm. Most children will receive the nasal spray flu vaccine. Some children will need to have the flu jab. You can check the NHS website for the most up-to-date information about the flu vaccine.
This year’s annual flu vaccination programme is set to start on 11 September 2023, with adult care home residents and those most at risk to receive their vaccines first.
Contact your GP to book an appointment for your flu jab if they haven’t already got in touch. If it’s quicker and easier you can book to have your flu jab at your local pharmacy. It's important that you should try to book your appointment as early as possible.
Children can receive the flu jab at their GP, school or a community clinic, depending on their age and circumstances.
Find out more about vaccines for children at Child flu vaccine - NHS (www.nhs.uk)
If you can't leave your home
If you are housebound, speak to your GP as community workers may be able to come out and give you the jab at home.
If you're a parent/carer of a child with diabetes
Children with long-term health conditions such as diabetes are at higher risk from flu and are eligible for the NHS flu vaccine. Speak with the school-aged immunisation service team, the nurse or GP at your doctor’s surgery or the specialist if your child has hospital care about the flu vaccine if you need more information.
You need to be aware of the following:
If you have an illness or infection – including Covid-19 – and you feel like you have a fever, don’t get the flu vaccine. Wait until you’re better or speak to a healthcare professional about when to have it.
If you’ve had a serious allergic reaction to a flu vaccine or any of its ingredients you may not be able to have the vaccine, but it’s important that you speak to your doctor or nurse as there may be an alternative.
The flu vaccine is made using eggs, but if you’re allergic to eggs, you can get an ‘egg-free’ vaccine. Your healthcare professional can help you find out more about this.
If you wear a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) or flash glucose monitor (Flash) sensor your flu jab should not be injected in close proximity to the sensor. This is because vaccines can cause inflammation around the injection site which may dislodge sensors and the accuracy of glucose readings from the sensor following a vaccine in the same arm has not been tested.
Possible side effects
After any vaccination, you may have side effects. This is natural and they’ll usually go after a few days. Using over-the-counter medications, like paracetamol, and drinking plenty of sugar-free drinks will help if you get a high temperature.
You might find your blood sugar levels are higher than normal. This will usually settle. But if your blood sugar levels remain consistently high, or you experience anything other than these mild side effects, you must tell your doctor or healthcare professional.
People with diabetes have a higher risk of becoming seriously ill if they develop coronavirus (known as Covid-19). It’s important that people with diabetes take up the offer of both the flu and coronavirus vaccines if they are eligible. Getting both vaccines will reduce your risk of becoming ill with both coronavirus and flu at the same time. It’s perfectly safe to have both the Covid-19 boosters and flu vaccines together.
Find out more about the Covid-19 vaccine booster.
What to do if you get the flu
If you get the flu, don't delay in speaking to your doctor or nurse. They should tell you what to do if you’re unwell, and we have lots of information about it too. You might hear these called your sick day rules.
If you take an SGLT2 inhibitor tablet, you should stop this when you’re not well. This is because taking an SGLT2 inhibitor during a period of illness could increase your risk of DKA. There are also some other medications used to treat 2 diabetes or diabetes complications that might need to be stopped or changed when you’re unwell. If you take insulin, you may need to take more when you’re not well. Follow any sick day rule advice you have been given and speak to your health care team for advice on your medications.
You really need to keep warm during the winter. Keeping warm if you have the flu can help you get better. If your house is too cold, turn up the heating to at least 18°C (65°F).
Keep testing your blood sugars
Being unwell can cause your blood sugars to go up and down. If you normally test your blood sugar, you may need to do it more often depending on your diabetes treatment.
Keep hydrated and eat
Living with diabetes and being unwell can be made worse if you don’t keep your fluids up. Some medications mean you need to eat regularly, so try to eat a little and often. Carbohydrate-based drinks, like milk or juices, may help you manage your blood sugars alongside any medication.
Go to your GP
If your symptoms don’t improve, you need to see your GP. Don’t waste time. Leaving things until they get worse might lead to more serious infections.
Call our Helpline
If you’re worried about flu or the flu vaccine, as well as your GP, you can also always contact our helpline team on 0345 123 2399 or email email@example.com. Our trained advisors are here to support you.