The T1D Exchange Guide to Dealing with Diabetes and Coronavirus (COVID-19)

By Susana Elman

The last few weeks have been a harrowing experience for thousands of people around the world. The public health crisis caused by the novel coronavirus COVID-19 threatens to overwhelm doctors and hospitals with an alarming number of deaths and infections.

At this point, it’s necessary to remember that people with “underlying health conditions” are at particularly high risk, and diabetes is at the top of the list. Now, more than ever, it is necessary not to panic but to create and share information about coronavirus and diabetes, backed by reliable sources, with the help of health professionals and endorsed by medical societies as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), The American Diabetes Association (ADA) and the International Diabetes Federation.

Do people with type 1 diabetes have to be overly concerned with the current coronavirus?

“In general people with diabetes face greater risks of complications when dealing with viral infections like flu, and that is likely to be true with COVID-19,” the American Diabetes Association (ADA) said in a statement on Feb. 28.

When people with diabetes develop a viral infection, it can be more difficult to treat due to fluctuations in blood glucose levels and possibly the presence of complications. The reasons for this increased risk are due to the fact that the virus tends to thrive in an environment of high blood glucose and that the immune system is compromised and therefore hinders the fight against the virus and potentially leads to a longer recovery period.

The ADA encourages people with diabetes to “follow the guidance of the CDC and to review their diabetes sick day protocols.”

Coronavirus – A Quick Review

What is Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person via respiratory droplets. The virus that causes COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus that was first identified during an investigation into an outbreak in Wuhan, China.

What are the possible symptoms of the disease?

People affected with COVID-19 may have a fever, cough, shortness of breath, tiredness, and muscle aches. Respiratory problems appear when the infection affects the lungs and causes pneumonia. Symptoms generally appear within a few days of a person becoming infected with the virus, and most cases occur approximately 3 to 7 days after exposure. In some people, it may take a little longer for symptoms to appear (up to 14 days).

How can the disease be avoided?

Most medical professionals who treat diabetes seem to be emphasizing basic hygiene and illness precautions listed below, as well as doubling down on efforts to achieve good glucose control.

Following, simple easy steps that should be taken in daily life to avoid the disease:

  • Frequently wash your hands with soap and water or use alcohol-based solutions, especially before eating and after being with people.
  • Do not share food, utensils, glasses or towels.
  • Avoid close contact with sick people. Separate yourself from people who cough or sneeze.
  • If you start to feel sick with respiratory symptoms, stay home and notify the health system that you are sick.
  • When sneezing or coughing, cover your nose and mouth with a disposable tissue or the inside of your elbow. Throw the tissue in a safe container.
  • Avoid unprotected contact with wild or farm animals.
  • Get a flu shot – while there is no vaccine yet for the coronavirus, you can avoid other strains of the flu that will weaken your immune system.
  • If your house is dry, especially in the wintertime, use a humidifier. A humid environment is also beneficial because dried and cracked membranes and skin are more likely to allow infections through.

How do I plan for this if I have T1D?

It is advisable to plan ahead in case you contract the virus. Having the phone numbers of their medical team and storing a 90-day supply of both key medication and blood glucose monitoring supplies is important so that you don’t have to leave home in case of illness. 

If you become infected with the virus, they should immediately contact their healthcare team and insurers. Get the necessary medications (especially insulin) and know what adjustments are necessary for diet and medication. Just remember, evidence suggests that individuals with well-managed T1D are NOT at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Keep your composure and stay at home if you can.

What to do if I contract coronavirus and have T1D

  • Stay hydrated
  • Monitor blood glucose frequently
  • Monitor temperature
  • Monitor the ketone bodies (if possible in the blood)
  • Follow the recommendations of the health authorities and your health team.
  • Make sure all your prescriptions are current and have a maximum number of refills available

Finally…

In these moments of confinement, uncertainty, and doubts about the situation we are living in, it’s important to stay calm, monitor our blood glucose and ketone levels, stock up on essential supplies, observe closely what we eat, the level of physical activity that we can practice, and most importantly, pay special attention to our mental health and self-esteem.

Now, it is critical to remember that physical distance does not imply loneliness or isolation. We are all in this together; people with diabetes and non-diabetics sharing a common goal “flatten the curve”. We must stay connected, optimistic, empathetic, more supportive of each other. Showing kindness, mercy, and sympathy in difficult times are great displays of our humanity.

Read our article about …

How People with Diabetes and Others Can Get Early Supplies of Essential Medicine.

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