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Exploring research: are people with diabetes more likely to catch coronavirus?

Although diabetes can affect how well your immune system works, there’s no evidence to suggest you’re more likely to catch coronavirus if you have the condition.

A picture of Faye, our Senior Research Communications Officer and the author of our series about the key things to know about coronavirus and diabetes research

Written by Faye Riley PhD, our Senior Research Communications Officer. This article is part of our series on the key things to know about coronavirus and diabetes research.  

Diabetes and the immune system  

Over time, high blood glucose (sugar) levels can weaken the immune system’s ability to fight off bacteria and viruses. They can also cause damage to your blood vessels, which can make it harder for the immune cells carried in your blood get to where they’re needed in your body. This can also make it harder to fight off infections. 

That’s why people with diabetes can find their wounds are slower to heal, and that they’re more likely to develop skin and tissue infections. They may also be more likely to develop some bacterial infections, like urinary tract infections (UTIs) and pneumonia.  

However, there’s no evidence so far to suggest that people with diabetes are more likely to catch coronavirus compared to people without the condition.  

But we do need to bear in mind that coronavirus testing wasn’t widely available for the first few months of the pandemic, and this has made it hard to know exactly who has been infected. It’s also difficult to know how many people were infected but experienced no symptoms. This means we need to do more research to fully explore whether certain groups of people are more likely to get the virus.  

What we’re doing 

That’s why we’re funding Professor Kathleen Gillespie at the University of Bristol to help us understand more about how many people with type 1 diabetes have already had coronavirus.  

She is giving coronavirus antibody tests to around 5,000 people living with type 1 diabetes and their families. This will give us the first clear picture of how infections rates in people with type 1 diabetes compare to rates in people without the condition.

You can find out more about her research project and how it will help us improve the advice and support we give to people with type 1 around coronavirus.  

More things to know about coronavirus research 

We know that you may have more questions about coronavirus and diabetes, so we’ve taken a look at the research to bring you the key things to know. Find out more about: 

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