The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the COVID-19 outbreak to be a public health emergency of international concern. At present there is no vaccine against it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with chronic medical conditions like diabetes are at higher risk of getting very sick from this illness.
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. There appear to be two reasons for this. Firstly, the immune system is compromised, making it harder to fight the virus and likely leading to a longer recovery period. Secondly, the virus may thrive in an environment of elevated blood glucose1.
That’s why it is extra important for you to take actions to reduce your risk of getting sick with the disease.
Common signs are typical flu-like symptoms: a fever, cough, breathing difficulties, tiredness and muscle aches. Symptoms usually start within 3-7 days of exposure to the virus, but in some cases, it has taken up to 14 days for symptoms to appear.
What should people with diabetes and their loved ones do*?
• Stock up on diabetes supplies (glucagon, ketone strips, etc), over-the-counter medicines and medical supplies (like tissues, rubbing alcohol, etc.) to treat fever and other symptoms.
• Always have enough insulin for the week ahead, in case you get sick or cannot refill.
• Pay extra attention to your glucose control.
• Make sure you will be able to correct the situation if your blood glucose drops suddenly.
• Make sure you have access to enough food.
• If you live alone, make sure someone you can rely on knows you have diabetes as you may require assistance if you get ill.
• Take everyday precautions to keep space between yourself and others.
• When you go out in public, keep away from others who are sick, limit close contact and wash your hands often.
• Avoid crowds as much as possible.
• Avoid cruise travel and non-essential air travel.
• During a COVID-19 outbreak in your community, stay home as much as possible to further reduce your risk of being exposed.
• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing, or having been in a public place.
• If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
• To the extent possible, avoid touching high-touch surfaces in public places – elevator buttons, door handles, handrails, handshaking with people, etc. Use a tissue or your sleeve to cover your hand or finger if you must touch something.
• Avoid touching your face, nose, eyes, etc.
What should you do if you start to feel sick*?
• If you show flu-like symptoms (raised temperature, cough, difficulty breathing), it is important to consult a healthcare professional.
• Any infection is going to raise your glucose levels and increase your need for fluids, so make sure you can access a sufficient supply of water.
• Call your doctor’s office immediately if you have medium or large ketones (and if instructed to with trace or small ketones).
Click here to read more from the DRI’s Education and Nutrition Service about diabetes management during the COVID-19 pandemic>
*This list is not all inclusive. Please consult your medical provider for any symptoms that are severe or concerning.
1. International Diabetes Federation: https://diabetesvoice.org/en/news/covid-19-and-diabetes/?fbclid=IwAR2HksnCHkMriIwZMm5PNWQiirwpz68w47d-eO9dqSta7ePWcb6avpYPwIA
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/specific-groups/high-risk-complications.html
3. World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019
4. American Diabetes Association: https://www.diabetes.org/diabetes/treatment-care/planning-sick-days/coronavirus