People of all ages can be infected by the new COVID-19 virus. COVID-19 is spread through air droplets that are dispersed when an infected person talks, sneezes or coughs. It can be spread through close contact with an infected person or by contact with air droplets in the environment and then touching the mouth or nose.
For most, COVID-19 is mild, with minimal flu-like symptoms or more like a common cold. However, in up to 15% of cases, COVID-19 has been severe and in around 5% of cases it has led to critical illness, like infection in the lungs (pneumonia), kidney failure and even death.
According to the International Diabetes Foundation’s newsletter, Diabetes Voice, older people and people with diabetes may be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the COVID-19 virus. When people with diabetes develop a viral infection, it can be harder to treat due to fluctuations in blood glucose levels and, possibly, the presence of diabetes complications. This could be because the immune system is compromised (likely leading to a longer recovery period) and because the virus may thrive in an environment of elevated blood glucose.
For people living with diabetes it’s important to take precautions to avoid the virus if possible. The recommendations that are being widely issued to the general public, like washing hands regularly and avoiding touching your face, are doubly important for people living with diabetes and anyone in close contact with people living with diabetes.
If you have diabetes, you should also:
- Pay extra attention to your glucose control.
- If you show flu-like symptoms (raised temperature, cough, difficulty breathing), it is important to consult a healthcare professional. If you are coughing up phlegm, this may indicate an infection so you should seek medical support and treatment immediately.
- Any infection is going to raise your glucose levels and increase your need for fluids, so make sure you drink ample amounts of water.
- Make sure you have a good supply of the diabetes medications you need. Think what you would need if you had to quarantine yourself for a few weeks.
- Make sure you have access to enough food.
- Make sure you will be able to correct the situation if your blood glucose drops suddenly.
- Make sure you have all relevant contact details to hand in case you need them.
- If you live alone, make sure someone you can rely on knows you have diabetes as you may require assistance if you get ill.
As the situation is not fully clear at this point, the International Diabetes Federation encourages people living with diabetes to keep informed of the latest developments and look out for updates and advice from your governments, national diabetes association and other reliable sources.