What if I get COVID-19 with Diabetes?

Ask the Experts

I’m diabetic, and I’ve heard that people with diabetes are at greater risk than the general population if they become infected with COVID-19 coronavirus disease. What kinds of risks are there for COVID-19 with diabetes? How is coronavirus different for diabetics? What do I look out for, and how can I protect myself? 

Doctor’s Response

Like everyone else during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, you’re very worried about potentially getting sick. When you have a serious condition such as diabetes, you constantly have to monitor and take care of your health to prevent other medical problems from happening. 

It’s important to educate yourself as much as possible for the best outcome so you can avoid getting sick in the first place or reduce your risk of serious complications if you do get sick.

First, people with diabetes are NOT more susceptible to getting COVID-19 than the general population, however; they could have more serious complications of the virus if they do become sick.

Based on the data we currently have from China, where COVID-19 appears to have originated, people who had diabetes and COVID-19 had higher rates of complications and death. 

Additionally, people who may have one serious condition such as diabetes may have other serious health problems such as heart disease, making them more likely for complications.

Reduce your risk of COVID-19 when you have diabetes

If you have diabetes, the best way to protect yourself from the coronavirus is to manage your diabetes well and stay as healthy as you can. When your diabetes is under control, then you have just as good a chance as anyone else in perfect health when fighting COVID-19.

When your diabetes is not well-managed, and your blood sugars aren’t controlled, your chance of serious complications increases. Your body’s ability to fight the illness is weakened. 

Viruses tend to cause inflammation, and when you have diabetes, this could negatively affect your blood sugar levels and contribute to complications of COVID-19. 

A viral infection such as COVID-19 could also increase your chances of diabetic ketoacidosis. When you have diabetes and diabetic ketoacidosis, it can affect your fluid intake and electrolyte levels. This puts you at risk for sepsis and septic shock, both of which are the more serious complications for diabetic people with COVID-19.

More facts about people who are at risk for complications of COVID-19

Based on what we currently know about COVID-19, there are several types of individuals who are at a higher risk for severe illness with COVID-19.

Those who are at most risk due to complications of COVID-19 include:

  • People over the age of 65
  • People who live in an assisted living facility 
  • People with chronic lung disease (COPD or asthma)
  • People who are severely obese
  • People who are immunocompromised (for example, undergoing cancer treatment)
  • People with HIV
  • People with uncontrolled medical conditions such as diabetes, renal failure, liver disease
  • Smokers

Signs and symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) for diabetics to look out for

Pay close attention to any new symptoms you may experience. Symptoms of COVID-19 may include:

If you experience these symptoms, contact your healthcare provider.

When you have diabetes and think you may have COVID-19, also provide your doctor with the following information:

  • Glucose reading
  • Ketone reading
  • Any other symptoms such as nausea
  • Fluid intake

If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, contact your doctor for immediate medical assistance. These emergency signs include:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion or inability to arouse
  • Bluish lips or face

How to protect yourself from coronavirus (COVID-19) if you have diabetes

For people with diabetes, you will need to take special precautions to ensure you’re safe from coronavirus. 

  • If you have family members caring for you, then they will need to make sure they wash their hands before feeding you or handling you. Also avoid sharing any utensils, dishes, or cups, with other family members. 
  • Keep your distance as much as possible from others and self-isolate in your own room, if possible.
  • SARS-nCoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 spreads the way most cold viruses do. It spreads through respiratory droplet secretions containing coronavirus that come into contact with the eyes, nose, or mouth, either from breathing them in after someone coughs or sneezes, or from being rubbed into these areas by hands after touching secretions on a contaminated surface. 
  • Crowds and public places increase the opportunities for infection. Being in enclosed spaces with a lot of people increases exposure as well.
  • Most coronaviruses are as contagious as common cold viruses or influenza virus (the flu virus). In other words, they can be very contagious from person to person but not as contagious as measles. For example, direct contact of hands with secretions or breathing within 3 feet of a cough or sneeze is required, not simply walking by a sick person.
  • The best way to prevent coronavirus and other respiratory viruses that often circulate at the same time is to avoid inhaling infectious respiratory secretions or touching surfaces that may be contaminated.

Here are tips to keep you and your family safe from infection not just from Wuhan coronavirus, but from infectious germs in general:

  • Limit being in public or crowded places during winter and spring or when an outbreak of respiratory viruses is suspected.
  • Stay home if you are sick with cold symptoms.
  • If you must be around other people, cover your cough or sneeze with your elbow or sleeve to avoid contaminating your hands and then contaminating objects you touch. You can also use tissues that you can throw away.
  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water.
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer often, especially if frequently touching potentially contaminated surfaces (for example, public keyboards, touch pads, doorknobs, elevator buttons).
  • Surgical masks are of limited value in preventing transmission or infection with most respiratory viruses, especially if they are worn a long time and become moist from breath. Masks do not replace the respiratory and hand hygiene measures above.
  • Health care workers should pay close attention to public health guidance about severe respiratory virus outbreaks to reduce their risk of infection. For MERS, SARS, and 2019-nCoV, people usually use barriers such as gloves, gowns, and masks during a hospital stay.

There is no vaccine for coronaviruses at this time.

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Reviewed on 3/26/2020
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