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Updates: Coronavirus and diabetes

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UPDATED 27 MAY: This page is currently up-to-date, and based on the most recent guidance available. We’ll continue updating this page to share new guidance as it is released.

We recently made changes to these sections:

Coronavirus (Covid-19) and diabetes updates

We've created this information for people living with diabetes and their families. We hope you find it useful and it answers some of your questions. We'll keep updating this page and you can find all coronavirus news stories in our News Hub - including our latest story on coronavirus deaths in England.

You can also find out what we're doing to address your concerns.

All the information below applies to the whole of the UK, unless specified. We've noted where are some differences in guidance and diabetes services across the UK. Here are some useful links so you can stay up to date on what's going on in your local area:

Staying at home

Everyone should stay at home as much as possible. This includes people with diabetes. You can leave your home for:

  • Basic necessities, like food and medicine
  • Exercise. In Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, this needs to be local. In England, you can now drive somewhere to exercise. This includes things like golf, tennis and angling.
  • Any medical need or to care for a vulnerable person.
  • Going to and from work, and only if you can’t work from home. For example, key workers.

If you do need to go outside for any of these reasons, you should still follow strict social distancing measures. This means keeping 2 metres apart from other people and washing your hands as soon as you get home.

If you live in England, you can sit and rest outside. And you can meet up with one person from outside your household, as long as you keep 2 metres apart at all times. In Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, you can only see people from your household.

If you are already self-isolating or following the shielding guidance, then continue following those rules.

Get our guide on staying home and managing diabetes

SGLT2i medication

If you have type 1 diabetes and you take SGLT2i tablets, your doctor may want you to stop these for the time being. This is because SGLT2i tablets can mask the symptoms of DKA (diabetic ketoacidosis), which can be caused by coronavirus.

If you have type 2 diabetes and you take SGLT2i tablets you can keep taking these unless you become unwell. If you are unwell, these tablets could increase your risk of developing diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA).

There are lots of different types of SGLT2i tablets so check our information for the full list of brand names.

Symptoms of coronavirus

The symptoms of coronavirus are any of the following:

  • a new, continuous cough
  • a high temperature (a fever)
  • loss of smell or taste.

What to do if you have coronavirus symptoms (self-isolating)

If you have coronavirus symptoms, however mild:

  • Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital.
  • If you live alone, stay at home for 7 days from when your symptoms started. 
  • If you live with someone who has symptoms, you should stay at home for 14 days from the day the first person got symptoms. If you then develop symptoms, you should stay at home for 7 days from the day your symptoms start, even if it means you're at home for longer than 14 days.
  • Follow the advice of your GP practice, practice nurse or diabetes team regarding your medication.
  • If you routinely check your blood sugar at home you'll probably need to do it more often.
  • If you don't check your blood sugar levels at home, be aware of the signs of a hyper (hyperglycaemia), which include passing more urine than normal (especially at night), being very thirsty, headaches, tiredness and lethargy. You should contact your GP practice if you have hyper symptoms. 
  • Stay hydrated – have plenty of unsweetened drinks and eat little and often.
  • If you have type 1 diabetes, check your blood sugar at least every four hours, including during the night, and check your ketones. If your blood sugar level is high (generally 15mmol/l or more, or 13mmol/l if you use an insulin pump, but your team may have given you different targets) or if ketones are present, contact your diabetes team.
  • Keep eating or drinking – if you can’t keep food down, try snacks or drinks with carbohydrates in to give you energy. Try to sip sugary drinks (such as fruit juice or non-diet cola or lemonade) or suck on glucose tablets or sweets like jelly beans. Letting fizzy drinks go flat may help keep them down. If you're vomiting, or not able to keep fluids down, get medical help as soon as possible.

If you feel you cannot cope with your symptoms at home, or your condition gets worse, or your symptoms do not get better after 7 days, then use the NHS 111 online coronavirus service. If you do not have internet access, call NHS 111. For a medical emergency, dial 999. 

Shielding advice

Shielding is a way of protecting 'clinically extremely vulnerable' people who are at a very high risk of severe illness and needing to go to hospital from coronavirus. It means staying at home and avoiding all face-to-face contact.

So what is meant by clinically extremely vulnerable? These include people with certain types of cancers and severe respiratory conditions. You can find the full list of people who should be shielding on the gov.uk website

People with diabetes are not in the clinically extremely vulnerable (shielding group). People with diabetes are in the 'clinically vulnerable group' which means they should follow stringent social distancing advice.

There may be some people with diabetes who need to shield based on other conditions, for example those with cystic fibrosis-related diabetes. But under current guidance, most people with diabetes do not need to do this. If you haven't had a message from the NHS yet, then you're not being told to shield and you should follow the stay at home rules.

If you have hospital and GP appointments

Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital if you have coronavirus symptoms even if you have an appointment.

If you're already having treatment for something like a foot or eye problem, and you don't have coronavirus symptoms, then your appointments should still carry on. If you're worried about going to your clinic or hospital at this time or want to check whether your appointment is still going ahead, call the number on your appointment letter.

Most routine appointments like your annual diabetes review have been cancelled or postponed. But you should be able to reschedule once things go back to normal. It's okay that you won't be going your eye screening and routine foot checks in these circumstances. In the meantime, follow your current routine including checking your feet daily, keep to a healthy diet and try to keep activeEye screening is still going ahead in some circumstances and for some people who are at higher risk of problems, such as pregnant women with diabetes. All eye screening clinics should be using personal protective equipment (PPE). 

If you spot something new you're concerned about, like a cut or blister on your foot, call your GP and explain your situation. If you can't get through, call 111 for advice. If you have any change in your vision you should contact your local screening service or optometrist.

If you or your family need urgent medical advice

Seek prompt medical attention if your illness or the illness in any household members is worsening. If it’s not an emergency, go online to use NHS 111. If you have no internet access, you should call NHS 111. If it is an emergency and you need to call an ambulance, dial 999 and inform the call handler or operator that you or your relative have coronavirus symptoms.

If you are concerned or have been asked to attend in person within the period you are home isolating, discuss this with your medical contact first (for example, your GP practice, local hospital or outpatient service), using the number they have provided. If your concerns are related to your coronavirus symptoms contact NHS 111 online. If you have no internet access, you should call NHS 111.

Visit the gov.uk website for more information on Covid-19: guidance for households with possible coronavirus infection.

If you need to go into hospital for other reasons

You may be in a situation where you need medical attention – this may be something related to your diabetes, or it may be something unrelated like an injury or illness. This means you might have to go to the Accident and Emergency (A&E) department of your local hospital and you might have to wait a while before being seen.

During this time, your care in hospital may be a little different to normal, for example you may not see the diabetes team or not have family with you when you go into hospital. For any problem, regardless of the current Covid-19 pandemic, you should access the emergency departments as you would have done before – the NHS is still open. Read our guide to managing your diabetes while in hospital.

If one of your healthcare team is diagnosed with coronavirus

If your clinician is diagnosed with coronavirus and you have not seen them recently, then you are unlikely to have been exposed to coronavirus. The risk associated with any healthcare workers who become infected with coronavirus is assessed on a case by case basis and appropriate action taken. You should follow the advice given to you if you are contacted because you have been exposed to coronavirus in this way.

Coronavirus and your emotional wellbeing

You might be feeling worried and anxious about coronavirus and how it might affect you or your family and friends. We know this could be a stressful time, so you may need support with how you’re feeling. 

We have some helpful information to help you cope with stress and other emotions, or you might like to call our helpline to talk it through with someone. We also have a useful coronavirus thread on our online forum, where members are sharing information and experiences so you might find answers to any more questions.

How coronavirus can affect people with diabetes

Everyone with diabetes, including those with type 1, type 2 and gestational, is vulnerable to developing a severe illness if they get coronavirus, but the way it affects you can vary from person to person.

People with diabetes are particularly vulnerable to becoming seriously ill with coronavirus because the virus can cause difficulties managing your diabetes, potentially leading to DKA (diabetic ketoacidosis).  

When you have diabetes, being ill can make your blood sugar go all over the place. Your body tries to fight the illness by releasing stored glucose (sugar) into your blood stream to give you energy. But your body can’t produce insulin to cope with this, so your blood sugars rise.

Your body is working overtime to fight the illness, making it harder to manage your diabetes. This means you’re more at risk of having serious blood sugar highs (DKA) and lows, as well as longer-term problems with your eyes, feet and other areas of your body. It is important that people with diabetes follow the sick day rules if they become ill from any illness.

For most people, coronavirus is a mild illness, but some people develop a more serious form of the virus and sadly could die. Data from NHS England shows us that the risk of dying is higher for people living with diabetes than those without the condition. Here our Head of Research Communications, Dr Lucy Chambers, explains more about the risk factors, and why overall your risk of dying remains very low. You can find out more in our news story on coronavirus deaths in people with diabetes.



We’re fast-tracking research to understand more about coronavirus

In response to this pandemic, we’ve announced an urgent funding call for research projects looking at the specific ways coronavirus affects people living with diabetes. We know there’s a lot more to learn about this new type of virus, and we know we need answers fast.

That’s why we asked scientists across the UK to apply for £100,000 of new funding, so that we can start to understand more about coronavirus and diabetes as soon as possible. Our hope is that the findings of this new research will help us rapidly improve the advice that can be given to people living with diabetes, and help them keep safe and healthy during this uncertain time. We’re fast-tracking our usual processes and will be able to update you on what we’re funding soon.

"Thankfully this past week I’ve been feeling much better and I’m not as short of breath. My symptoms have definitely been in line with those of Covid-19 but I suppose I’ll never know for definite if I’ve had the virus!"

- Khadija has diabetes and recovered from coronavirus symptoms – read her story

Children and school

Everyone, including children with diabetes, can get coronavirus. The rules about staying at home apply to children with diabetes too, unless they have a parent who is a key worker

If you are a parent and you are a key worker, then you are able to keep taking your child to school. In these circumstances, schools should be practicing social distancing for your child. This is to prevent the virus from spreading between children and your home. We know this is easier said than done, and can depend on how old your child is and the size of the school. Talk to the teaching staff if you don’t feel that social distancing is possible in your child’s school.

In England, the government has plans for a phased return of some children to school, with an ambition that some pupils will go back to school from early June. The government has said that it will provide more school-specific guidance soon and we’ll update this page as soon as it is published. You can find all the latest and up-to-date information for parents and carers on the government website.

If you are pregnant and have diabetes

The same rules apply to you as for everyone with diabetes. If you’re pregnant and have diabetes, then you are not more at risk of getting the virus. However, if you do get the virus, you could be more at risk of developing complications and it could become harder to manage your diabetes. For that reason it's really important you follow the rules on staying at home.

You can find all the latest information for pregnant women from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

If you are in type 2 diabetes remission

Diabetes remission works differently for different people, and we still don't know enough about it. So we don't know for sure how the virus could affect you if you’re in remission. Everyone, including people in diabetes remission, should follow the stay at home measures.

You can find more general information in our guide to type 2 diabetes remission.  

Work and coronavirus

The UK Government has guidance for employers on what they need to do to help you work safely. This sets out that if you are clinically vulnerable, which includes people with diabetes, employers should do everything possible to support you to work from home. However if you're not able to work from home, for example if you're a key worker, you should be offered the option of the safest available onsite roles. Find out more about your rights at work.

Not sure what a key worker means? It includes people whose jobs are vital to public health and safety – like NHS staff, teachers, social workers, food chain workers, postal workers and those working in transport. You can find the full list on the government website.

If you are a key worker and you have children, you can still take them to school too. 

We want to hear from you

We’ve launched a new, short coronavirus and employment survey to find out about any issues and concerns you have had since the UK Government guidance was announced on Sunday 10th May about easing restrictions. Please share any experiences you have had by responding to our survey.

Travel advice

The Foreign Office advises everyone against non-essential travel. See the travel section of the government website for the latest information.

Insulin, medicines and diabetes tech

Lots of you have been asking us about medicine supplies and how much to get.

There is no need for the public or NHS to stockpile insulin, diabetes medicines or tech. This could cause shortages and put other patients at risk. Pharmacies have been asked to not support patients trying to stockpile. Get more info about picking up prescriptions.

The government has been working with industry and partners to monitor the impact of coronavirus on the UK supply chain of medicines and technology and put in place measures to protect UK patients. This includes banning companies from buying medicines like insulin that are meant for UK patients and selling on for a higher price in another country. This will help to ensure an uninterrupted supply of crucial medicines like insulin for NHS hospitals treating coronavirus patients.

We want to reassure you that if you’re using an insulin pump, a continuous glucose monitor or a flash glucose monitor (a FreeStyle Libre), you will still be able to get these – whether that’s usually through prescriptions or you pay for these yourself. And if your insulin pump warranty is due to expire soon, the companies who make these will extend this or supply a replacement if that’s needed at any point.

For those who need or choose to buy test strips, we have negotiated with several companies to make certain strips available through our catalogue and online shop.

Tips for picking up your prescriptions

Pharmacies are working hard to make sure that everyone with diabetes gets the medicines they need. Help them to help you by following these tips:

  • Follow government advice and don't go to a pharmacy if you or anyone in your household has a temperature or a new and continuous cough, even if mild. Boots pharmacy have an online service and are encouraging customers to choose for their medicines to be delivered to their homes – you don't have to sign for these now, the delivery driver will leave the package somewhere safe and let you know.
  • Plan ahead where possible. Our advice is to try and order your next prescription at least 14 days before it is due. 
  • Put your contact details on prescriptions so pharmacies can let you know when your medicines are ready, so you won’t need to be in the pharmacy for as long. Please don’t ring the pharmacy unless it’s urgent.
  • If you're self-isolating, see if family, friends or neighbours can pick up your medication for you. If you don’t have anyone who can collect your medicine, speak to your community pharmacy for advice about how they can help. There might be community or voluntary groups ready to help in your area.
  • If you're well and can visit the pharmacy yourself, think about how you can help family, friends and neighbours who are self-isolating by collecting their medicines on their behalf (you may need to take ID with you and will need to know the name and address of the person you are collecting for).
  • Don't ask for extra medicine. Continue to get medicines as normal and don't stockpile.
  • Ask your prescriber about electronic repeat dispensing, so you can order your repeat prescriptions online.

Volunteer support scheme to help you if you’re isolated

We know some people may not have friends and family able to help while they are isolated at home. The NHS Volunteer Responders scheme has been set up in England to do just that – with an army of volunteers helping with things like shopping and medication, as well as setting up phone chats to help with loneliness. People with diabetes who are isolated at home can now access this service. The number to call is 0808 196 3646 and you can get more information about the service on the NHS Volunteer Responders scheme website.

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