Persons living with diabetes are at risk of severe COVID-19 if they become infected. In fact, the severity of COVID-19 is tripled in the diabetes community. Persons who have poor glucose control (fasting blood glucose >7.8 mmol/L, HbA1c>7%)) are particularly at risk. With coronavirus infections increasing in the Western Cape, Tygerberg and Groote Schuur Hospitals are urging people with diabetes to seek care without delay if COVID-19 is suspected. Those with diabetes who qualify for the COVID-19 vaccine are encouraged to get it.
Diabetes is a lifelong condition that affects how the body gets energy from food, resulting in too much sugar in the blood if diabetes medication is not used and if lifestyle changes are not made. High blood sugar causes havoc in the body leading to high blood pressure, strokes, heart attacks, kidney failure, blindness and amputations – all of which can be prevented with good blood sugar control and healthy living.
According to the International Diabetes Federation, 463 million people have diabetes in the world and about 4.5 million in South Africa (12.8% of our population). Experts are of the opinion that this is a gross underestimation, and it is believed that 3 out of 5 South-Africans with diabetes are not yet diagnosed. You may have diabetes without knowing it if you are overweight, inactive, older than 45 years are/ or if you have a strong family history. Thus, it is of utter importance to visit your healthcare facility if you are at risk and not to wait until you have symptoms of diabetes.
A total of 40% of all COVID-19 admissions to Groote Schuur Hospital have been persons living with diabetes, according to Prof Joel Dave, Head of the Division of Endocrinology at Groote Schuur Hospital. “Persons living with diabetes are usually older and obese, and age and obesity is a major risk factor for more severe COVID. It is very important to control diabetes to prevent complications. Medication, lifestyle choices and following COVID protection measures are all essential for this.”
Dr Ankia Coetzee, an endocrinologist at Tygerberg Hospital, encourages persons to take care of their diabetes at home by looking after their feet to prevent ulcers and trying to lose weight if they can. “It is important that they check their glucose regularly and discuss it with their healthcare worker if it is over 10mmol/L or under 4mmol/L on finger prick. It is advisable to increase the frequency of your blood glucose fingerprick testing if you feel unwell and/or have COVID-19.”
Contact your healthcare facility if:
You have low blood sugar (finger prick glucose <4mmol/L and/or symptoms of hypoglycemia if you don’t have a glucometer) that does not improve or occurs more than once. You need assistance to recover from an episode of low blood sugar. Your blood sugar exceeds 13.8 mmol/L and you feel unwell. You start vomiting and/or have fast breathing (it can indicate a hyperglycemic emergency). Urgently You have a sore on your foot. You need help with taking or getting your medication. You have an appointment for a check-up. WhatsApp 081 578 6636 for more diabetes information and support. Take care of yourself and stay safe this winter.