As the worsening coronavirus pandemic continues to spread across the country, millions of Americans with diabetes face increased risks of COVID-19.
About 30 million Americans have diabetes, mostly type II (formerly known as “early adulthood”). A quarter of adults with diabetes in the United States are over 65, an age that has been shown to limit the increase in death rates from COVID-19.
“One problem is that you have the age confounder. As people get older, type II diabetes is becoming more and more prevalent, “Dr. Mark Snyder, endocrinologist in San Francisco, told Yahoo News. “It is difficult to solve all these problems. Aging is also a risk factor for complications with COVID-19. “
Diabetes is a disease of the pancreas that affects the body’s ability to process blood sugar. When left untreated, high blood sugar can lead to various life-threatening complications, such as heart disease, kidney failure, and stroke.
COVID-19 is of particular concern for older diabetics, who may already have heart disease, another risk factor for those who contract the virus.
“Diabetes and high glucose levels are associated with increased complications, respiratory failure and mortality in patients hospitalized with COVID-19,” says the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists on its website.
Data compiled on the 2,112 US deaths from COVID-19 up to March 28, showed that 10.9% of patients had diabetes, the most common underlying health condition among those who died. However, health experts warn that there is still more to be learned about the link between diabetes and COVID-19.
“There is not enough data to show if people with diabetes are more likely to get COVID-19 than the general population,” said the American Diabetes Association on its website. “The problem that people with diabetes face is primarily a problem with poorer outcomes, not a greater chance of getting the virus.”
In China, where the virus is believed to have originated, data shows that people with diabetes had much higher rates of serious complications and death from COVID-19 than people without, reported the ADA.
Complications from viruses pose an increased risk for diabetics, which is why doctors encourage them to get the flu shot every year. According to the CDC, about 30% of adults hospitalized for the flu each year suffer from diabetes.
“People with hyperglycemia due to diabetes may be more severely affected by common infections, such as the flu and pneumonia,” the University of Michigan wrote on its website. “This is why vaccinations against influenza (flu) and pneumococcal disease are recommended for people with diabetes.”
Since initial data shows that COVID-19 is three times more infectious than seasonal flu, diabetics should take extra precautions, warn health officials.
“If you get any of these common illnesses, your diabetes is going to be wasted and you will likely end up in hospital,” said Snyder.
This is partly because viral infections in diabetic patients greatly increase the risk of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a condition that occurs when cells do not get enough glucose. This can lead to coma and death.
“DKA can make it difficult to manage your fluid intake and electrolyte levels – which is important in managing sepsis. Sepsis and septic shock are some of the most serious complications that some people with COVID-19 have experienced. “
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Click here for the latest news and updates on coronaviruses. Experts over the age of 60 and those who are immunocompromised remain the most at risk. If you have any questions, please refer to CDC and WHO resource guides.