Preliminary research by the World Health Organization shows that people with underlying medical issues are at higher risk of serious complications, or even death, from the novel coronavirus.
Among the pre-existing conditions listed, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer are the most concerning. For diabetics, which represent 9.4 percent of the American population, the fear is not so much in the risk of infection, but in the severity of the symptoms that develop after contracting the virus.
According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), rates of infection for diabetics are essentially the same as those for the general population. However, COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has been found to be deadlier for those living with diabetes than those who are not.
“As far as we know, it’s not having diabetes itself that greatly increases your risk for poor outcomes. It’s having diabetes and having poorly controlled diabetes, or already having some of the complications, like heart disease, that often accompany diabetes,” says Matt Petersen from the American Diabetes Association’s Medical Information Department.
When dealing with an illness caused by a viral infection, both type 1 and 2 diabetics have an increased likelihood of developing ketoacidosis, a life-threatening state where one's blood sugar shoots up to dangerous levels. This causes the person's blood to become too acidic, making him or her more susceptible to septic shock. Add the coronavirus into the mix and things become even more precarious.
"Viral infections can also increase inflammation, or internal swelling, in people with diabetes," adds the ADA.
However, that is not to say COVID-19 is an automatic death sentence for these individuals. If diabetes is well managed, the risk of getting severely sick from COVID-19 is "about the same as the general population."
So far, health experts don't think there are different risks for type 1 versus type 2 diabetics. In any case, age is still the bigger factor.
Additionally, leading manufacturers say that the coronavirus pandemic is not impacting their production and distribution capabilities for insulin. Lawmakers in states like Minnesota and Virginia are also working on bills to establish affordability programs for emergency insulin and $50 insulin cost caps.
Still, patients are recommended to request a three-month prescription from their insurance companies if they don't already have one.
With cases continually on the rise, it is important to take all the necessary precautions to avoid infection and minimize the spread of the virus. Good hygiene, social distancing, and self-isolation practices will go a long way for diabetics, other high-risk individuals, and everyone else.
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