The CDC advises that people with diabetes get certain vaccines. Vaccines help your body's immune system learn how to protect itself against bacteria or viruses to prevent infection. People with diabetes should get a yearly flu shot each fall. They should also get a pneumococcal vaccine, which helps protect against pneumonia. And it's important to get a hepatitis B vaccine, which protects against an infection of the liver. Here's why it's so important for someone with diabetes to have these shots, and the best times to get them.
Influenza, also known as the flu, is an infection caused by a virus. The virus spreads from person to person through coughing or sneezing. Flu symptoms may include a sudden high fever, chills, body aches, sore throat, runny nose, dry cough, and headache. But people with diabetes who catch the flu may become especially sick. The illness sometimes leads to pneumonia or a dangerously high blood glucose level. In some cases, you may need a stay in the hospital.
The best way to protect yourself against the flu is by getting the flu vaccine. This vaccine doesn't provide complete protection. It makes it less likely that you will catch the flu for about the next 6 months. You need a new flu shot every year. The best time to get the flu shot is when it becomes available in your community so that you'll be protected before flu season begins. It helps if the people you live with get flu shots, too.
Pneumococcal disease is a bacterial illness. It can cause serious – even deadly – infections of the lungs (pneumonia), blood (bacteremia), and lining of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis). Having diabetes increases the risk for death from these illnesses. Although the pneumococcal vaccine isn't 100% effective, it can go a long way toward protecting you from the worst infections.
You can get the pneumococcal vaccine at the same time as your flu shot or at any other time of the year. For most people, one shot is enough for a lifetime. Some people, including those with diabetes who are older than 65, may need to get a second shot five to 10 years after the first one. Ask your health care provider whether this applies to you.
Hepatitis B is a virus that causes infection of the liver. It can cause symptoms such as fever, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, and a yellow color to the skin or eyes. But in some cases, you may be infected with hepatitis B and not know it. Over time, it can cause serious damage to the liver. The virus is spread through contact with infected blood and semen. People with diabetes are more at risk for hepatitis B if they have their blood glucose levels monitored in a hospital or care facility. It's easy to transmit through needles and lancets.
The vaccine for hepatitis B is advised for people younger than 60, and suggested for those ages 60 and older. It's given in a series of three shots over a 6-month period. You need all 3 shots in order to be immune. If you've had some of the hepatitis B vaccine series in the past but not all 3 shots, you only need to have the remaining shots – you don't need to start over.
Before you get any of these vaccines, talk with your health care provider. He or she can help you get vaccines at the correct times to make sure you're fully protected.