With coronavirus in the news every day, and with more and more cases constantly appearing (perhaps even in your community), it’s concerning and scary for everyone. If you have a chronic condition, such as diabetes, you might be wondering if coronavirus poses an additional threat, and what you can do to protect yourself.
First things first: What is coronavirus?
It’s mentioned on the news every night, and it’s all over the internet and social media, but what is coronavirus?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the coronavirus is actually called a “novel coronavirus” because this is a new virus that hasn’t previously been identified. The World Health Organization (WHO) gave an official name to this novel coronavirus on February 11: COVID-19. The “CO” stands for “corona,” the “VI” for “virus” and the “D” for “disease. The “19” refers to the first outbreak that occurred in late 2019 in Wuhan, China.
There are different types of coronaviruses; in fact, coronaviruses are pretty common and tend to cause only mild illness in humans. Some coronaviruses affect only animals.
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How is coronavirus spread?
COVID-19 is primarily spread between people who are literally in close contact with each other (within 6 feet). Someone infected with this virus can spread the virus to another person through respiratory droplets when that person coughs or sneezes.
In addition, a person may get COVID-19 by touching a surface, such as a stair rail or a doorknob, that has the virus on it, and then touching their mouth or nose, or possibly even their eyes. COVID-19 is a type of virus that spreads very easily; as a result, the virus is now global, affecting 110 countries (including the United States) as of March 9.
How do you know if you might have COVID-19?
Symptoms of COVID-19 may appear 2 to 14 days after exposure, which means that a person may spread the virus for days or weeks before having any symptoms. Symptoms include:
· Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
The severity of symptoms can range from very mild to severe and can even be deadly. Pneumonia may occur in people with COVID-19 infection. Severe cases of COVID-19 have occurred in men and women over the age of 50 and in those with other health conditions.
If you develop any of these symptoms, especially if you have traveled from an area with ongoing spread of COVID-19 or have been in contact with someone who has COVID-19, contact your healthcare provider. Your provider will inform your state’s public health department and the CDC, and you may be tested for COVID-19.
How is coronavirus treated?
At this time, there is no vaccine for COVID-19. Researchers are working on developing a vaccine, but this is likely to take up to a year. Treatment is focused on helping to relieve symptoms.
Diabetes and coronavirus
According to the newsletter The Scientist, “The people most likely to develop severe forms of COVID-19 are those with pre-existing illnesses and the elderly.” This is based on an analysis of data from China of 45,000 confirmed cases.
It’s thought that more severe cases of COVID-19 are due to a person’s immune response, meaning, the ability to fight off illness. The elderly and people with conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory diseases, high blood pressure and cancer are more likely to have immune systems that don’t work as well as they should to fight off viruses, bacteria and other microorganisms that cause illness (that’s why it’s so important to be up to date with all of your vaccinations). So, when a virus like COVID-19 invades, an “uncontrolled immune response” kicks into action that leads to inflammatory conditions like shortness of breath, airway inflammation and pneumonia. Other organ systems in the body are affected, as well, if this type of immune response occurs.
Are diabetics more at risk for coronavirus/COVID-19?
“If you have diabetes, you do have a higher risk of contracting COVID-19,” says David Erani, MD, endocrinologist at Onduo. “That’s because hyperglycemia (high blood sugars) decreases the ability of your immune system to fight off infections.”
The American Diabetes Association, in a statement from February 28, also notes that, “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.”
Dr. Erani adds that, “When people with diabetes have an illness like the flu or any viral infection, they need to be concerned about the effect of the acute illness on their glycemic control. And hyperglycemia increases the risk of dehydration.” It’s a double-edged sword in that the stress of having the illness can further increase blood sugar levels.
What should diabetics do to protect themselves against coronavirus?
While there is no guarantee that you won’t get a COVID-19 infection, there are important steps that you can take to greatly lessen your risk. These are steps that are recommended by the CDC:
· Avoid contact with people who are sick.
· Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
· Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue, and then throw the tissue in the trash.
· Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
· Per the CDC, “wear cloth face coverings in public settings and when around people who don’t live in your household.”
· Maintain at least six feet of physical distance from others.
What else can you do?
· Avoid hand-shaking, fist bumps or hugging.
· Stay home from work, school and public places if you are sick.
· Disinfect your cell phone. (For tips on how to safely do this, see this page.)
Dr. Erani adds, “Make sure that you’re up to date on your vaccinations, such as those for flu and pneumonia.”
Update your sick-day plan
People with diabetes are encouraged to have a game plan in place for if and when they become sick with any type of illness. And the time to get your plan set up is BEFORE you get sick. Here’s what you need to get you started:
· Easy access to phone numbers for your doctors, healthcare team, pharmacy and health plan.
· A list of all the medications and supplements you take, including the doses.
· Plenty of diabetes supplies including test strips, ketone strips, sensors, syringes, pen needles, batteries and insulin pump infusion sets.
· Treatment for low blood sugar such as glucose tablets, glucose gel, honey or candy.
· “Sick-day” foods if you are unable to follow your usual meal plan: regular Jell-O, regular soda or juice, soup, crackers, applesauce, popsicles, yogurt, sherbet and pudding are good choices.
Along with having plenty of supplies and food on hand, be sure that you know when you should call your healthcare provider, if and how to adjust your diabetes medicines, how often to check your blood sugar, and if and how often you should check for ketones.
Give your immune system a fighting chance
You stand a better chance of fighting off infections, in general, when your immune system gets a helping hand. There are steps that you can take to give your immunity a boost:
· Include plenty of fruits and vegetables in your eating plan. The “heavy hitters” include red peppers, broccoli, spinach, carrots, kiwi and citrus fruits.
· Other foods that can help are plain yogurt, almonds, green tea and a hot bowl of chicken soup.
· If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation.
· Fit physical activity into your daily routine.
Finally, focusing on your diabetes self-care is especially important. As Pat DiPietro puts it, “This is an opportunity to gain more control over your blood sugars to help keep bacteria and viruses away.”
Want to learn more about coronavirus? Read “Preventing Coronavirus: Diabetes Questions and Answers.”