Diabetes and coronavirus: does diabetes count as 'high risk', and what is the latest advice for type 1 and type 2 diabetics in Scotland?

While most cases of coronavirus are mild, there are certain underlying conditions which make people more likely to catch it or suffer a more severe infection

Here’s what you need to know about the conditions that put you at risk from contracting Covid-19 - and how to avoid infection.

Are people with diabetes more susceptible to coronavirus?

As coronavirus is a new virus, nobody has built up immunity to it - meaning anyone can become infected, regardless of age, gender or any other factors.

(Photo: NOAH SEELAM/AFP via Getty Images)(Photo: NOAH SEELAM/AFP via Getty Images)
(Photo: NOAH SEELAM/AFP via Getty Images)
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But evidence suggests that those with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to becoming infected by coronavirus.

This includes those undergoing cancer treatment, people being treated for autoimmune diseases like lupus, Multiple Sclerosis or inflammatory bowel diseases, those with HIV and those having an organ or bone-marrow transplant.

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A report from the World Heath Organisation, which studied cases in China, said that the underlying conditions which put people at the highest risk of severe disease are:

(Image: WHO)(Image: WHO)
(Image: WHO)

- Hypertension (high blood pressure)

- Diabetes

- Cardiovascular disease

- Chronic respiratory disease (such as lung disease or asthma)

- Cancer

"If you have diabetes, you are at increased risk of severe illness from coronavirus (COVID-19)," say Diabetes.org.

What does it mean for me?

"Coronaviruses can cause more severe symptoms and complications in people with diabetes, as well as in older people," say Diabetes.org.

"Those with other long term conditions such as cancer or chronic lung disease. The risk of death from coronavirus is quite low, and the majority of people with coronavirus will have a comparatively mild illness.

"It is important that people with diabetes follow the sick day rules should they become ill from any illness. If you routinely check your blood sugar at home, you'll probably need to do it more often – at least every four hours, including during the night.

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"Contact your GP practice or Diabetes team by phone who will help you if you have any queries or if you are unsure about what to do regarding your diabetes."

What precautions should I take as a diabetic?

Everyone must now stay at home except in exceptional circumstances. You should only leave your home for basic necessities, like food and medicine, exercise once a day, any medical need or to care for a vulnerable person, and for going to and from work (only if this can’t be done at home).

If you do need to go outside for any of these reasons, you should still follow strict social distancing measures, keeping two metres apart from other people and washing your hands as soon as you get home.

If you routinely check your blood sugar at home you'll probably need to do it more often.

If you don't check your blood sugar levels at home, be aware of the signs of hyperglycaemia, which include passing more urine than normal (especially at night), being very thirsty, headaches, tiredness and lethargy. You should contact your GP practice if you have hyper symptoms.

Stay hydrated – have plenty of unsweetened drinks and eat little and often.

If you have type 1 diabetes, check your blood sugar at least every four hours, including during the night, and check your ketones. If your blood sugar level is high (generally 15mmol/l or more, or 13mmol/l if you use an insulin pump, but your team may have given you different targets) or if ketones are present, contact your diabetes team.

Keep eating or drinking – if you can’t keep food down, try snacks or drinks with carbohydrates in to give you energy. Try to sip sugary drinks (such as fruit juice or non-diet cola or lemonade) or suck on glucose tablets or sweets like jelly beans. Letting fizzy drinks go flat may help keep them down. If you're vomiting, or not able to keep fluids down, get medical help as soon as possible.

Coronavirus: the facts

What is coronavirus?

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COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can affect lungs and airways. It is caused by a virus called coronavirus.

What caused coronavirus?

The outbreak started in Wuhan in China in December 2019 and it is thought that the virus, like others of its kind, has come from animals.

How is it spread?

As this is such a new illness, experts still aren’t sure how it is spread. But, similar viruses are spread in cough droplets. Therefore, covering your nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing, and disposing of used tissues straight away is advised. Viruses like coronavirus cannot live outside the body for very long.

What are the symptoms?

The NHS states that the symptoms are: a dry cough, high temperature and shortness of breath - but these symptoms do not necessarily mean you have the illness. Look out for flu-like symptoms, such as aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose and a sore throat. It’s important to remember that some people may become infected but won’t develop any symptoms or feel unwell.

What precautions can be taken?

Washing your hands with soap and water thoroughly. The NHS also advises to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze; put used tissues in the bin immediately and try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell. Also avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth unless your hands are clean.

Government advice

As of Monday 23 March the prime minister has put the UK into lockdown and instructed all citizens to stay at home. People can only leave their homes to exercise once a day, go shopping for food and medication, travel for medical needs or to care for a vulnerable person, and travel to work only if essential. Police will be able to enforce these restrictions.

All non-essential shops will close with immediate effect, as will playgrounds, places of worship and libraries. Large events or gatherings of more than two people cannot go ahead, including weddings and celebrations. Funerals can only be attended by immediate family.

Children of separated parents can go between both parents' homes.

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Anyone with a cough or cold symptoms needs to self-isolate with their entire household for 14 days.

The government has now instructed bars, restaurants, theatres and non-essential businesses to close and will review on a ‘month to month’ basis. Schools closed from Friday 20 March for the foreseeable future, and exams have been cancelled.

The over 70s or anyone who is vulnerable or living with an underlying illness are being asked to be extra careful and stay at home to self-isolate. People with serious underlying health conditions will be contacted and strongly advised to undertake "shielding" for 12 weeks.

For more information on government advice, please check their website.

Should I avoid public places?

You should now avoid public places and any non-essential travel. Travel abroad is also being advised against for the next 30 days at least, and many European countries have closed their borders.

What should I do if I feel unwell?

Don’t go to your GP but instead look online at the coronavirus service that can tell you if you need medical help and what to do next.

Only call 111 if you cannot get help online.

When to call NHS 111

Only call NHS 111 if you can’t get help online and feel very unwell. This should be used if you feel extremely ill with coronavirus symptoms. If you have been in a country with a high risk of coronavirus in the last 14 days or if you have been in close contact with someone with the virus please use the online service.

Sources: World Health Organisation and NHS