With so much in the news and on social media these days about the coronavirus and COVID-19, it seems like there is so much to worry about, from shopping for food to not going in to the office to keeping older family members safe. In addition, knowing that people who have heart disease, lung diseases or diabetes are at “higher risk of getting very sick from this illness,” according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
If you have a child who has diabetes, you’re likely very concerned and wondering if your child is at higher risk of getting COVID-19. It’s important to clarify information about COVID-19 and people who have diabetes, particularly children, as the abundance of information about this illness can often be misleading and confusing.
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Are people with diabetes more likely to get COVID-19?
According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), “People with diabetes are not more likely to get COVID-19 than the general population.” However, if someone with diabetes does become infected, the chance of becoming seriously ill is much greater compared with the general population.
JDRF adds that people with type 1 diabetes are not more susceptible to coming down with COVID-19, and that if someone does become ill, the risk of developing complications is not necessarily greater unless that person also has another chronic illness, such as heart disease or kidney disease.
What about children with type 1 or type 2 diabetes?
The CDC states on its website that, “Based on available evidence, children do not appear to be at higher risk for COVID-19 than adults.” But what about kids who have diabetes? The good news is that they, too, are not at higher risk of COVID-19. Yet, Melissa Hermann Dierks, RDN, LDN, CDCES, owner of Eat Smart Nutrition Co. & Supermarket Savvy in Huntersville, North Carolina, cautions, “Managing blood sugar can be harder when children with diabetes are ill, which is why the diabetes community is concerned.”
She adds, “It is believed that coronavirus can be managed well in children with diabetes who are otherwise healthy by following sick-day guidelines and staying in close touch with the diabetes team.”
Common sense prevails. Parents should follow guidelines that they’d likely be following during flu season. “Washing hands with soap and water frequently; avoiding touching eyes, the nose and mouth; frequently disinfecting high-touch areas in the home, such as doorknobs; avoiding large gatherings; and avoiding people who are sick” are some of the guidelines that Hermann Dierks strongly encourages. Make sure children wash their hands after using the bathroom, when coming in from the outdoors, and before eating meals and snacks. And don’t forget to wash or wipe down toys and other surfaces that children have touched.
At this time, there is no vaccine against COVID-19, so keep children away from anyone (including family members) who are sick with a fever or a cough. Parents should also teach children to cough and sneeze into their elbow rather than their hands, and to wash their hands carefully each time.
What can parents do to reinforce these behaviors?
Children learn by seeing and doing, so it’s important that parents set a good example by practicing good hygiene behaviors such as frequent hand washing and sneezing or coughing into their elbow.
Smaller children may not understand the importance of these behaviors and may even refuse to observe them. In this case, try using a reward system. For example, provide a gold star or a sticker every time your child washes her hands, or keep a chart to check off a good behavior. Then come up with other types of rewards, such as watching a favorite movie or playing a game of soccer in the yard.
What other precautions can parents take?
Make sure to have a sick-day plan in place just in case your child with diabetes becomes ill. “Keep sick-day supplies on hand, such as regular (not diet) soda, regular popsicles, broth and/or noodle soup, crackers, regular pudding and ice cream. Also, have a working thermometer on hand, age-appropriate Motrin or Tylenol, and any prescription medicines, such as flu and anti-nausea medications on hand,” says Hermann Dierks.
Continue to check your child’s blood sugar levels regularly and give your child her insulin or other diabetes medicine as directed by your child’s pediatrician. Also, be sure you know when you should call the doctor. Your diabetes educator is also an invaluable resource for any questions and concerns you may have.
Finally, keep a sick child away from adults age 60 and older and those who have existing medical conditions, as they are the most vulnerable. “Sick children with diabetes could be a threat to those people in their family,” adds Hermann Dierks.
Want to learn more about coronavirus? Read “Diabetes and Coronavirus: What You Need to Know,” “Preventing Coronavirus: Diabetes Questions and Answers” and “Coronavirus: Healthy Eating During Hard Times.”