How does coronavirus impact people with diabetes and other chronic medical conditions differently? What should people with diabetes do to prepare themselves for a long period of “social distancing”? What if a person with diabetes or a member of their household gets infected with coronavirus?

People with Diabetes are (Rightfully) Anxious about Coronavirus and their Health

If those of us who are healthy are experiencing fear and anxiety, what’s happening to others who are already dealing with a chronic condition day in and day out? A friend posted this statement on her Facebook page recently, “I am disheartened. Many of my friends and colleagues have chosen to practice “selective social distancing”… still hanging out with buddies, a few neighborhood happy hours, letting their kids see a couple of close friends. This is not ok. In fact, as someone who is immunosuppressed, I find it terrifying….While you may only experience this virus as a cold, some of us could die from it. Please stay home and please keep your kids home.”

This friend is right, of course. When any of us chooses to ignore the CDC’s guidance for social distancing, we choose to put others in harm’s way. I’m a Dietitian and a Diabetes Care Specialist, and I moved all my clients to telehealth appointments this week. A few chose to reschedule their appointments to a time when I can hopefully see them in person, but the majority were grateful to have the option to stay at home and avoid possible exposure to coronavirus.

My clients with diabetes fear for their health and safety, and rightfully so. Here are my best answers to some of their most frequently asked questions:

Are People with Diabetes More Likely to Get Coronavirus?

The American Diabetes Association says that while people with diabetes are not any more likely to become infected with coronavirus, they are more likely to have “serious complications and death.” Any time a person with diabetes gets an infection, whether it’s viral or bacterial, blood sugars tend to rise as a consequence of the inflammatory process. When blood sugars rise excessively, a serious complication called diabetic ketoacidosis can occur, especially in people with type 1 diabetes.

What Supplies Should People with Diabetes Have on Hand During the Coronavirus Pandemic?

As always, people with diabetes need to be prepared to take care of it at home. This means keeping a supply of:

  • Insulin

  • Oral medications

  • Glucose testing strips or supplies for your continuous glucose monitor

  • Ketone testing strips, especially for people with type 1 diabetes

  • Juice boxes, glucose tabs, or hard candy in case of low blood sugar

  • Water, in case your blood sugar is high and you need to push fluids

  • Soap & hand sanitizer to prevent the spread of infection

What Should I do If I Have Diabetes and I Think I Might Have Coronavirus?

If you develop symptoms such as fever, dry cough, or shortness of breath, call your doctor right away. Whether you feel sick or not, if you get a blood sugar reading of 240 mg/dl or higher twice, check your urine for ketones. If you have ketones in your urine, call your doctor.

Visit the Emergency Room if you develop these symptoms of Coronavirus:

  • Difficulty Breathing

  • Blue lips

  • Chest pain or pressure

  • Confusion

Are my Family Members a Danger to Me During the Coronavirus Pandemic?

The American Diabetes Association recommends that people with diabetes separate themselves from other family members inside the house if possible. For example, if you can confine yourself to your room most of the time, that would be best. Your family members should assume that they are contagious and could pass the coronavirus on to you at any time, even if they feel fine. They should wash their hands frequently. All households, whether they have a family member with diabetes or not, should be sanitizing doorknobs, handrails, tables, kitchen counters, and light switches regularly.

What if Someone in My House Has the Coronavirus?

If at all possible, give the sick person his or her own room, and keep the door shut. Have someone who is under 65 and who doesn’t have diabetes or another medical condition take care of the sick person.

I’m Worried That We’ll Run out of Insulin due to Coronavirus

Major insulin manufacturers report that they are running on schedule as usual and that they don’t expect Coronavirus to slow their production of insulin. Some pharmacies, including CVS, has started delivering medications to patients’ homes. If the pandemic has affected your income and you are concerned about the cost of your insulin, try insulinhelp.org.

I’m Feeling Overwhelmed

When we’re overwhelmed, we tend to stop taking care of ourselves. Maybe we stop exercising, stop eating as well, and spend a little (or a lot) more time on the couch. Many friends and clients have mentioned recently that they feel like they’re in a period of mourning. It’s OK to feel however you feel, and it’s also important to remember that at times like these, we need to take better care of ourselves than we ever have, for our mental health as well as our physical health. Maintain your regular diet, keep up with your regular physical activity schedule, and adjust your insulin as required with the help of your health care team.

Julie Cunningham

Julie Cunningham

MPH, RDN, LDN, CDCES, IBCLC

I believe people with diabetes can enjoy good food and good health without feeling ashamed of their bodies.