The outbreak of COVID-19 caused by the novel coronavirus is a public health emergency with international impact. Over 4 million people have been affected the world over.
It is well established that people with underlying health conditions are at a higher risk of complications if they contract COVID-19. This includes conditions like diabetes, hypertension, heart conditions, respiratory disorders as well as people over the age of sixty. If you are a caregiver for a diabetic person or are diabetic yourself, times like this might make you anxious and wonder what you can do to stay safe.
Research has shown that diabetes does not increase your risk of getting infected by the coronavirus, despite the fact that diabetics with persistent hyperglycemia may have a weaker immune system.
Studies show that people with diabetes and COVID-19 have a higher risk of acquiring severe pneumonia and inflammation, along with higher mortality rates. This risk is even higher when there are other comorbidities present. This may be due to two reasons. One is because of the compromised immune system in diabetics, and the other is because the virus may thrive better in an environment of high blood glucose.
As of today, there is no evidence of there being a higher risk with one type of diabetes than the other, that is, Type I or Type II diabetes, the risk is the same.
Here is what you can do to prepare and stay safe during this pandemic if you or your family members are diabetics.
- Follow the standard protocol and guidelines with regards to symptoms, when to test, hygiene practices, and social distancing measures:
- Wash your hands regularly with soap and hot water or a sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
- Avoid close contact and maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from other people.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces that are frequently touched or are dirty.
- Stay indoors if you are sick.
- Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue and wash your hands after.
- If you are diagnosed with COVID-19, make sure you self-quarantine.
- Wear a face mask outdoors at all times
- Avoid touching your face, eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands
2. Make sure you have sufficient stock of your medication and supplies
Always have medicines for diabetes as well as drugs to treat hypoglycemia handy. Keeping extra tablets of glucose or glucagon is essential in case your sugar levels drop too low. Those who are on insulin, make sure you have extra insulin pens, syringes, and vials. If you are using a glucometer, have backup batteries in your home. It is recommended to have at least a month’s stock of your medications.
3. Do not worry about the availability of your pills or insulin supply chain
The Government has taken all steps to ensure the supply chain of medicines and drugs is uninterrupted and does not foresee any shortage of supply or disruptions. There is no need to panic buy your medical supplies in excess.
4. Be aware of over the counter medicines that can affect glucose levels
While people are encouraged to consult doctors only if absolutely necessary, it is better to be aware of medicines that can affect glucose levels when you self-medicate:
- Cough syrups and decongestants can contain sugar
- Ibuprofen may increase the hypoglycemic effect of insulin
- Aspirin may affect sugar levels in large doses
5. Be vigilant for signs of hypoglycemia or diabetic keto-acidosis (DKA)
People with diabetes (most often Type I diabetes) could develop a potentially life-threatening complication which is known as diabetic keto-acidosis. This occurs when the body does not have enough insulin to convert glucose into energy, leading to the breakdown of fats instead. These cause a build-up of acids called ketones within the blood. It can happen if there is an error in the insulin pump or due to the unavailability of insulin. If you have persistent hyperglycemia, it is advisable to regularly check for ketones at home, to prevent keto-acidosis.
In the midst of this pandemic, it may be natural for diabetics to be more anxious and check your glucose levels more frequently. Consult your doctor about the right frequency for you.
6. Maintain a healthy lifestyle and follow a routine.
Most people become sedentary when they stay at home. Even if you can’t go outside for a walk or a run, fix a time for exercise every day. Following an exercise routine helps calm your anxiety and elevates your mood.
7. Eat Healthy
Staying at home may make you lazy and you may be tempted to binge on unhealthy snacks and go for ready-to-eat meals. But healthy nutrition is an essential part of diabetes management. It is important to eat a varied and balanced diet to maintain blood glucose levels and boost your immune system.
- Prioritize food with a low glycemic index such as vegetables or whole wheat bread and pasta.
- Limit your consumption of fried foods.
- Include green leafy vegetables in your diet.
- Eat two to three servings of fruits every day
- Choose lean meat like fish and chicken as a source of proteins, along with lentils and eggs.
8. Have sufficient groceries and other necessities.
Stock up on food, cleaning supplies and other necessities to last you at least two weeks. This reduces the number of times you need to step out of the house. Ensure that you have access to enough food to prevent hypoglycemic episodes. This includes having hard candies and chocolates lying around.
9. Have an emergency contact on speed dial.
If you live alone, it is better to have a friend, family member, or a trusted neighbour easily accessible in case of an emergency. They can bring your groceries or call a doctor if needed.
10. Do not hesitate to consult your doctor if you are unwell.
Do not ignore symptoms, and don’t be afraid to voice your concerns to your healthcare team. Be prepared with details of your latest blood reports, medications you are on, and the duration of your symptoms. Be aware of symptoms of ketoacidosis, so you can seek help immediately.
In the midst of this pandemic, it is always better to be prepared. Diabetes can be tricky and requires vigilance. Staying informed, being prepared, and seeking timely help can go a long way.