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The coronavirus and diabetes: risks and measures against it

These are unprecedented times. It has been almost three months since the World Health Organization (WHO) first reported the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on December 31, 2019. The COVID-19 outbreak is impacting all areas of our lives, from social distancing to remote work, sudden demands on homeschooling, adjusting child and elder care and many other aspects.

At Roche Diabetes Care, we have been following the coronavirus pandemic closely both because so many of our team members are people living with diabetes, and the health and well-being of our customers, our employees and society at large are our top priority.

Roche advocates that people follow the steps outlined by the WHO and the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), to protect themselves and others from the virus. As the momentum continues to grow, we wanted to help you understand what the risk is for people living with diabetes and how you can be best prepared.

Are people living with diabetes at a higher risk?

Coronavirus can affect anyone, but according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), some people are at a higher risk of getting very sick from the illness. These include older adults and people living with serious chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease.

Dr. Jon Cohen, Emeritus Professor of Infectious Disease at Brighton and Sussex Medical School explains, “The lungs are the common risk factor because the coronavirus causes an infection of the lungs, and when this happens the airspaces fill up with fluid caused by inflammation, which makes the heart work harder,” he adds “patients with diabetes often have complications involving the heart, but also the kidneys, and in the same way any extra strain on the body from infection can cause secondary problems in those organs.”

Molly Wagman, Head of Clinical Operations at mySugr further adds, “Some people with diabetes are at higher risk for contracting viruses and dealing with the associated complications. Those with consistently high blood glucose levels and older adults are particularly at higher risk. However, if you are generally in good health and stay on top of your diabetes management, the risk is similar to someone without diabetes."

What steps can you take for prevention?

There is currently no vaccine to prevent the coronavirus. The primary method of prevention is to wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, for a minimum of 20 seconds. This seemingly basic concept has been a source of commentary for many as it has become blatantly clear that many people were not aware of proper hand hygiene. For those needing a quick refresher, please view the following Johns Hopkins Medicine video to view hand-washing steps using the WHO technique.

In addition to hand washing, both the CDC and WHO outline several other basic protective measures:

  • Maintain social distancing - approx. 6 feet between yourself and other people
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth
  • Practice respiratory hygiene - cover your mouth and nose with bent elbow or tissue when coughing or sneezing

In addition to the preventative measures outlined above, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) urges those living with diabetes, to review how you manage sick days and proactively plan ahead based upon their guidelines. Specifically for people living with diabetes, it is important to keep your immune system in good shape and not to overlook everyday good habits such as:

  • Getting enough good quality sleep
  • Eating a healthy diet full of vegetables and fruit and drink lots of water
  • Move your body and get at least 30 minutes of exercise
  • Manage your stress (don’t panic!)

What steps should you take if infected?

As a person living with diabetes, it is important that you take an infection seriously. The CDC provides the most up to date and comprehensive overview of what to do if you are sick.

  • The number one thing is to isolate yourself at home during your illness. Do not go to work, school, public areas or take public transportation.
  • If going to your healthcare provider’s office, call ahead and inform them that you have or may have COVID-19.
  • Wear a facemask if sick (and only if sick) to protect those with whom you may come into contact.
  • Alert the health department.
  • Stay at home until instructed you may leave.

Looking towards the future of the virus

As we look toward the future, it is hard to predict what will happen. Many anticipate that with the spring and summer months quickly approaching, the coronavirus may take a back seat for the warmer weather months, similar to the flu. At the same time, others warn that while it might wan for the warmer months, the virus will come back as soon as the weather starts to cool and next winter could be the big winter and we are currently only on the tip of the iceberg. Regardless of what happens, the important thing right now is to be vigilant in how we care for ourselves and ensure we take the necessary precautions to stay healthy.