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October 12, 2005


Question from Reno, Nevada, USA:

We were advised, via a standard note in the mail sent by a local hospital, that because our daughter has type 1, she and her family should have a flu shot next week. Our daughter was diagnosed in February 2005 at age 10. Prior to diagnosis, she'd been to our family doctor once in six years, for an ear infection. Other than that, she has always been very healthy. We eat a very well balanced diet and she never gets sick. My husband is reluctant to get flu shots for all of us, thinking this may weaken our immune systems. Neither of us know anything about flu shots (pros or cons) or even exactly how they are supposed to work? WHY do they suggest someone with type 1 needs a flu shot? What about their family?


“Flu shots” and other immunizations do not weaken the immune system in any way! Indeed, immunizations bolster the immune system to help fight off the germ for which you are immunized. Did your children also forego other routine immunizations when they were infants?

We don’t see measles, mumps, and whooping cough much at all any more. (I personally have never seen measles!). Diphtheria is virtually vanquished, also. And smallpox is so virtually gone from around the world, that there hasn’t been system immunizations for that in decades.

The “flu” is actually a series of illnesses caused by different strains of a similar virus. The virus commonly changes regularly so last year’s immunizations tend not to be protective. The flu typically causes system symptoms with high fever, bad cough and other respiratory symptoms. Gastrointestinal symptoms may also be present. But, the illness can be severe leading to DEATH. Common? No.

So, people who have chronic illnesses or who may otherwise be infirmed (e.g. elderly) are recommended to get immunized.

Yes, your daughter is otherwise healthy and her diabetes may be well controlled. She may need the flu vaccine less urgently than another child who is not as healthy and has worse glucose control. But I also would recommend that she get the shot because, even when ill with minor conditions, glucose control can go haywire and ketones can be made which could lead to the devastating effects of DKA.

Recall that last year there was a nationwide shortage of flu vaccines. People with chronic illnesses, like diabetes, were given priority.


[Editor’s comment: See Key Facts about Influenza (Flu) Vaccine for more information on who should get the vaccine.