What You Should Know About Diabetes & the Coronavirus

When you have diabetes, there are additional precautions you should take with COVID-19. We have the basics on how you can prepare.

If you are a person with diabetes, you are considered higher risk for experiencing complications associated with the new coronavirus (COVID-19). Not only that, but if you're required to stay home, you may need to take extra preparation steps to make sure that you have supplies and medications on hand.

There's no reason to panic, though. Here, we compiled information on how to prepare if you have diabetes.

Diabetes & COVID-19

People with diabetes are not more likely to contract COVID-19 than others. However, people with diabetes are considered a high-risk group by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People with diabetes typically have greater complications from the flu (which is caused by another type of virus) and based on the information we have about COVID-19, the same is true.

It can also be harder to regulate your blood glucose when you are sick, especially if your illness keeps you from eating or drinking water regularly. For people with diabetes, this can lead to additional complications on top of the illness itself.

Rendition of a virus
Getty Images/dowell

How to Prepare

There are several steps you can take to reduce your risk of getting sick, whether or not you have diabetes. As recommended by the CDC and the American Diabetes Association, avoid close contact with sick people, stay home as much as you can and practice social distancing. Frequent hand-washing, not touching your face, cleaning and disinfecting are very important. One of the best ways to stop the spread of COVID-19 is by wearing a mask out in public. Use a cloth face cover when you go out, especially if you're indoors or unable to stay 6 feet away from people, like when you're getting groceries.

With the holidays approaching, there may be concerns around traveling. However, there are ways to host a CDC-approved Thanksgiving as well as other holidays. Focus on outdoor celebration, and try to limit gatherings to those in your household or community. The CDC also recommends limiting travel and especially avoiding cruise travel and nonessential air travel, for people at risk of serious illness from COVID-19. Your local public health department may have set additional travel recommendations, but the important thing to remember is to stay home as much as possible.

For someone with diabetes, there are additional steps to take to help get you ready for a potential state of emergency or quarantine. Firstly, the American Diabetes Association recommends having all the supplies you need to manage your diabetes accounted for and readily available.

This can include, but is not limited to (see the full list of recommendations from the ADA):

  • Contact information for your health care team
  • List of medications with doses (including vitamins or supplements)
  • Enough insulin for a week (or more) in case you are sick or unable to refill
  • Glucagon and ketone strips to test for high and low blood glucose levels
  • Simple-carbohydrate foods like soda (not diet soda), jam and hard candies

Nicole Bereolos, PhD, MPH, MSCP, CDE, says that while there is advice about getting an extra week or two of medication, it's possible to ask for more. "Request a three-month prescription from your physician if you currently have a one-month prescription. Just be aware that the ability to obtain a three-month supply of medication varies by insurance," says Bereolos.

You may want extra test strips, cleaning supplies, batteries for a glucose meter, hand sanitizer and other food and supplies on hand. Here is a list of foods and supplies to stock in a first-aid kit to help you get prepared.

It's not a bad idea to have a plan for sick days.

What to Do If You Get Sick

If you think you have been exposed to COVID-19, call your doctor. Common symptoms are fever, cough and shortness of breath. The American Diabetes Association has common tips for if you get sick, including the following:

Drink fluids. If you can't keep water down well, try to take a sip every 15 minutes to avoid becoming dehydrated.

Additionally, you should try to check your blood glucose levels more frequently when you're sick. If your blood sugar is low, eat a simple carb right away, like honey, jam or juice. If you are experiencing a high, check your blood glucose several times to confirm and check for ketones.

If you test positive for ketones, contact your doctor or health care team. Some medications, such as Tylenol, can impact the reading from a continuous glucose monitor (CGM), so it is recommended to test with finger sticks for accuracy if you can.

Seeing an abnormal rise in blood sugar may be a sign that you're sick, before you show any other symptoms. Stress hormones can cause your blood sugar to rise (fighting off an infection can put your body under stress). Seeing abnormal blood sugar numbers, may indicate that you've got a virus. That doesn't mean panic—but call your doctor if you notice abnormal numbers that can't be explained by what you ate and drank.

Continue to wash your hands and clean your injection and/or finger-stick sites with soap and water or rubbing alcohol.

Bottom Line

COVID-19 should not cause you to panic, even if you have diabetes and are more at risk of having more serious symptoms. Talk to your health care team if you're feeling anxious and want to put a plan in place to monitor your health. And don't forget about self care at this time. "Take breaks from social media and news reports. This can become overwhelming quickly. Allow for downtime to engage in pleasurable activities," adds Bereolos.

Having plenty of your medications, testing materials and simple-carb snacks on hand in advance is a good precaution in case you become too sick to leave the house or there is an outbreak where you live.

If you become sick, be sure to follow the ADA guidelines for managing the disease and call your health care team.

Right now, the CDC is advising people to listen to their recommendations, as well as those of local public health officials when it comes to COVID-19. Stay informed, stay home if you can, wash your hands and stay safe.

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While EatingWell is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.

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