Diabetes and infections
People living with diabetes are more vulnerable to getting infections, increased severity of infections and a higher risk of complications. Those that have poorer glucose control are more at risk. High blood glucose during an episode of infection has two concerning effects. Firstly it causes immunosuppression and secondly, the fuel available for pathogens is increased - viral replication may increase and secondary bacterial infections become more likely. Furthermore, oscillations in blood glucose in diabetes can affect the cells lining blood vessels and lead to dysregulated inflammation causing more severe symptoms.
Diabetes and the novel coronavirus
Individuals mainly experience mild illness when they contract COVID-19. Around 80% have a fever and feel generally unwell. However, the remaining 20% develop symptoms that are more serious such as shortness of breath, pneumonia and chest pain. People with diabetes have a higher chance of more severe symptoms and complications associated with coronavirus. The fatality rate is about 7% compared with 0.9% for those without any pre-existing medical conditions.
What can I do?
At the time of writing the risk of a member of the public catching coronavirus is low. There are however many steps you can take to stop the spread of the virus:
- Manage your diabetes - Keep your blood glucose under control:
- Take your medications regularly as prescribed. This will help to keep you healthier in general and more resilient against disease.
- Make sure you have enough medication and keep it nearby - Preparation will make controlling your blood glucose much easier.
- Monitor your blood glucose more regularly - Stay on top of the changes in your body so you can act appropriately in response.
- Ask for help if needed - call NHS 111 or in an emergency 999 informing them clearly of the situation
- During illness drink plenty of fluids and eat if you can. - Avoid dehydration (especially dangerous in hyperglycemia) by drinking water (a cup of water an hour or regular sips). Sticking to plain foods will help.
- Stop COVID-19 in its tracks with basic hygiene:
- Wash your hands - Washing your hands often and regularly is one of the most effective measures. You need a good lather of soap and water and to wash for at least 20s. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers (aim for over 60% alcohol) are also useful.
- Catch it. Bin it. Kill it. - Catch the virus by sneezing into a tissue or into the crook of your bent arm. Throw the tissue away into a closed bin. Next wash your hands as described.
- Avoid contact with others. Avoid physical contact like shaking hands or hugging. Try to keep over a meter away from others as respiratory droplets, which are the main way for the virus to spread, can go this far.
- Disinfect surfaces - Those respiratory droplets can settle on surfaces so regularly clean them.
- Avoid touching your face or rubbing eyes - Your hands touch a lot of surfaces and can pick up germs very easily.
- If you suspect you have coronavirus self-isolate and call NHS 111. You may also need to self isolate if you have traveled recently to an outbreak area. - It is possible to transmit the virus during its incubation period (1-14 days, typically 5). Be sensible and protect others.
- Wear a mask if you are caring for someone who is ill - Use a mask and dispose of it properly e.g. do not touch the front. Wash hands after removal.
- Practice food hygiene - Handle food products especially raw meats with care. Remember to completely cook food.
- Avoid flu and other respiratory infections
- Follow the hygiene tips above - These tips will also help you to avoid the flu which is more widespread than coronavirus in the UK
- Get a flu shot. Getting vaccinated will protect you against seasonal flu. Unfortunately, we do not yet have a vaccine for coronavirus but scientists are making progress.
If you have diabetes it is important to regularly monitor and control your blood glucose. This will be useful against COVID-19. Washing your hands and sticking to other basic hygiene tips will help to protect you and others from the coronavirus and other respiratory viruses. The COVID-19 situation is a developing one, you can check .gov.uk or the NHS website for further details and guidelines.