COVID-19 and Diabetes

COVID-19 is a new and potentially serious coronavirus. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the COVID-19 outbreak to be a public health emergency of international concern.

There are many coronaviruses, ranging from the common cold to much more serious viruses such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). They are viruses that have been transmitted from animals to people. In severe cases, coronaviruses can cause infection in the lungs (pneumonia), kidney failure and even death.

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.

People of all ages can be infected. For many (more than 80% of cases), COVID-19 is mild, with minimal flu-like symptoms. Some have not shown symptoms or only very mild symptoms, more like a common cold. The majority of people who have caught the virus have not needed to be hospitalised for supportive care. However, in up to 15% of cases COVID-19 has been severe and in around 5% of cases it has led to critical illness. The vast majority (around 98%) of people infected to date have survived.

Older people and people with pre-existing medical conditions (such as diabetes, heart disease and asthma) appear to 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.

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 glucose.

Like any other respiratory disease, COVID-19 is spread through air-droplets that are dispersed when an infected person talks, sneezes or coughs. The virus can survive from a few hours up to a few days depending on the environmental conditions. It can be spread through close contact with an infected person or by contact with air droplets in the environment (on a surface for example) and then touching the mouth or nose (hence the common advice circulating on hand hygiene and social distancing).

COVID-19 vaccination

In view of their increased risk of poor health outcomes as a consequence of COVID-19, it is important that people with diabetes are included among priority groups for vaccination programmes. IDF strongly recommends governments to prioritise access to vaccines for people living with diabetes and other health conditions, and advises people living with diabetes to get themselves vaccinated at the earliest opportunity that is offered to them.

IDF has signed the WHO vaccine equity declaration, which calls on countries and companies to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines are being administered in every country by April 7, World Health Day.

Keep informed of the latest developments by looking out for updates and advice from your government, national diabetes association and other reliable sources.

Scroll down further for advice and useful links on the management and prevention of COVID-19 in people with diabetes.