Although the seasonal influenza virus usually does not cause more trouble than a week-long malaise with fever, cough and body aches, some vulnerable populations suffer serious complications more often than the otherwise healthy people. Infants, elderly, and people with chronic conditions, such as diabetes are at greater risk for hospitalizations due to the flu and its complications.
Researchers in England studied how the flu shot may affect the rate of hospitalization for influenza complications for people with type 2 diabetes. They analyzed data collected from close to 125,000 people with diabetes over a 7-year period, comparing the rates of hospital admission for heart failure, strokes and pneumonia or flu. While analyzing the results, the researchers looked into factors, such as age, sex, weight, smoking habits and health status to minimize the bias that may be introduced by these variables.
The authors found that the flu shot cut the rates of hospital admissions for strokes by 33 percent, heart failure by 22 percent and pneumonia or flu by 15 percent among people with diabetes. Moreover, diabetics who received the flu vaccine were 24 percent less likely to die from all causes combined.
This research reiterates the importance of getting annual flu shots, especially for patients with chronic conditions, such as diabetes. Although the results are intriguing, there are some limitations to this study. For example, this was a retrospective study, which looked at historical records. Since these patients made their own decision on whether to take the flu shot or not, it is possible that folks who got the vaccination were generally more health-conscious and took more preventive measures than those who opted out. If that is the case, then the results could be somewhat skewed. A more diligent approach to study this issue would be to perform a randomized clinical trial, in which all patients are randomly assigned to either “control” group (meaning group that does not get a flu shot) or “treatment” group, which receives a vaccine. The comparison of such two groups could lead to more accurate findings.
In North America, the flu shot is now recommended for all people over the age of 6 months. It is especially important for patients with chronic conditions and elderly. Although young and healthy people are less likely to suffer serious complications, they could help reduce the spread of the flu by getting their seasonal flu shot.
- Vamos et al. (2016) Effectiveness of the influenza vaccine in preventing admission to hospital and death in people with type 2 diabetes. CMAJ doi: 10.1503/cmaj.151059. http://www.cmaj.ca/content/early/2016/07/25/cmaj.151059.full.pdf+html