Are people with diabetes more at risk of coronavirus?

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.

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Are people with diabetes more susceptible to coronavirus?

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

However, evidence suggests that those with weakened immune systems, as with any virus, 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.

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:

- 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) and according to current government guidance you should be particularly stringent in following social distancing measures," say Diabetes.org, "including significantly limiting face-to-face interaction with friends and family if possible."

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.

"If your blood sugar is persistently high or low, or if you have symptoms of a hyper 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?

Those at high risk of contracting coronavirus and/or contracting a more severe form of the disease should follow precautions to lower their risk of catching it.

This includes washing your hands regularly and thoroughly, avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth and avoiding contact with anyone who is unwell.

As of Monday 16 March the government advised that everyone should be observing social distancing - avoiding unnecessary travel and working from home where possible.

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

Fortunately, diabetes is not listed on the government’s list of ‘at risk’ groups advised to stay indoors for the next 12 weeks.

Coronavirus: the facts

What is coronavirus?

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 16 March the government advised that everyone should be observing social distancing - avoiding unnecessary travel and working from home where possible.

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

The government has now instructed bars, restaurants and theatres 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?

The advice now is to 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.

When to call NHS 111

NHS 111 should be used if you feel unwell with coronavirus symptoms, 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.

Sources: World Health Organisation and NHS