For most people, the flu is a respiratory illness that is unpleasant, but remedied by rest and medicine. Common flu symptoms may include a high fever, cough and/or sore throat, a runny or stuffy nose, headaches and/or body aches, chills, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea. However, the flu can be more serious for some groups of people, including young children, older adults and individuals with certain health conditions, such as diabetes and HIV/AIDS.
Diabetes is a chronic disease in which blood glucose levels are above normal. Diabetes can weaken your immune system, making it harder for your body to fight the flu virus. Additionally, being sick can raise your blood glucose and prevent you from eating properly. This may result in a negative impact in diabetes care because diet and exercise are important components of managing the disease. When the flu and diabetes intersect you are also at risk of flu-related complications like pneumonia.
HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, also weakens the body’s immune system, gradually destroying the body’s ability to fight infection and certain cancers. Studies show that HIV-positive individuals have an increased risk for heart and lung-related hospitalizations during flu season as a result of HIV/AIDS and serious influenza-related complications. There is also a higher risk of flu-related death in HIV-positive people.
Due to the severity of possible complications, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that individuals with HIV/AIDS or diabetes receive a flu vaccine each year. It’s important to note that the nasal spray version is not safe for individuals living with HIV/AIDS or diabetes. This vaccine contains a weakened form of the live flu virus and is only approved for use among healthy people, ages two to 49 that are not pregnant.
Vaccines are for everyone, regardless of age, but they are particularly important for Hispanic older adults, who are disproportionately impacted by chronic diseases that can cause severe flu complications. Data shows that Hispanic older adults are five times more like to have HIV than non-Hispanic white seniors and Latinos overall are 1.5 times more likely to have diabetes than non-Hispanic whites.
Despite these facts, Hispanic older adults have lower flu vaccination rates than the general population. As a result of this gap in vaccination rates, the National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA) created Vacunémonos (Let’s Get Vaccinated) – a cultural, linguistic and age-appropriate program that seeks to increase vaccination rates among Hispanic older adults, their families and caregivers. Since its inception, Vacunémonos has trained 146 promotores de salud (lay health workers) and reached over 6,000 individuals through interpersonal and one-on-one educational sessions. To learn more about Vacunémonos, please visit the program webpage.