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Coronavirus and diabetes updates

Coronavirus (COVID-19) molecules

If you have diabetes, you are no more likely to catch coronavirus (COVID-19) than anyone else. However people with diabetes are more vulnerable to developing a severe illness if they do get coronavirus, but the way it affects you can vary from person to person.

On this page:

All the coronavirus 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.

How coronavirus can affect people with diabetes

The majority of people who do get coronavirus – whether they have diabetes or not – will have mild symptoms and don’t need to go into hospital. However, everyone with diabetes, including those with type 1, type 2, gestational and other types, is more vulnerable to developing a severe illness if they do get coronavirus. This is why people living with diabetes are classed as being in a 'clinical risk group' for the coronavirus vaccines.

In adults with diabetes, there are certain factors that increase risk of serious illness like being older, having a high HbA1c, or having a history of diabetes-related complications. There are other factors too, like your BMI and ethnicity, that research shows can have an impact on your risk. In children with diabetes, the risk of becoming seriously ill with coronavirus is very low.

There are some risk factors that you can't change, but others where you can reduce your risk.

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 enough or any 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 and lows, potentially leading to DKA (diabetic ketoacidosis) or HHS (hyperosmolar hyperglycaemic state).

How to reduce your risk of getting seriously ill from coronavirus

Research shows that having the vaccine reduces the risk of getting seriously ill with coronavirus. There are some things that can help you keep safe:

  • get your coronavirus vaccines and booster when you are eligible
  • wash your hands regularly, for 20 seconds 
  • keep indoor spaces well ventilated and opt for meeting outdoors, where possible
  • wear a face covering in enclosed spaces, if not exempt.

Lateral flow tests

Rapid lateral flow tests are available to encourage people to test themselves regularly. You can buy rapid lateral flow tests from a pharmacy. 

The government has produced a step-by-step guide for people with visual impairment, on how to use and return your test kits.

Managing your blood glucose (sugar) levels

Research has shown that having a high HbA1c can increase your risk of becoming seriously ill from coronavirus. So it’s important to work with your diabetes team to try to bring your blood sugar levels to a healthy range.

Getting the coronavirus vaccines

People living with diabetes are classed as being in a 'clinical risk group' for coronavirus vaccination because they are more at risk of becoming seriously ill from coronavirus.

The most important way people living with diabetes can lower this risk is to avoid catching the virus in the first place. A vaccine is the most effective way to prevent infection and that’s why we strongly encourage you to get the vaccine.

Anyone aged 5 or over can get a first and second dose of the coronavirus vaccine. And now anyone over 50 and people with diabetes aged 5 and over will be offered a booster dose this autumn.

Get more information about the coronavirus vaccines, including who can get it and how safe it is for people with diabetes.

The government has also released an easy-read guide about the booster vaccinations.

"There have been lots of myths about the vaccine in the South Asian community. But I’ve had the vaccine, my 98-year-old dad has had it and we’re both fine – and you will be too. And it means you can make sure you and your family are safe."

- Abdul helps clear up myths about diabetes as one of our volunteers, read his story

NHS Covid Pass

You may be asked to prove your vaccination status before you can enter large venues and events using an NHS COVID Pass.

To get an NHS Covid Pass, you will need to download and register your details on the NHS App if you are in England or Wales, the NHS Scotland Covid Status App or the Northern Ireland Covidcert NI app. Find out more about Getting an NHS COVID Pass.

 

Face masks and coverings

Face coverings are no longer required by law in any setting, although some businesses, transport providers and supermarkets are asking their staff and customers to continue to wear one. Public health guidance remains in place, suggesting people should continue to wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces, where you may come into contact with people you don't normally meet. Staff and children in secondary schools are not required to wear masks in classrooms. 

We support the continued wearing of face masks for people with diabetes or anyone who wants to. Wearing a mask helps keep you and others safe and is a simple way to reduce your risk as you go about your daily life.

We hope employers across the UK continue to be considerate of the wellbeing of their employees and consider the benefits of encouraging face masks within their premises.

There are certain reasons why some people don’t need to wear a face covering – called exemptions. These include children (depending on their age), if you have asthma, and other reasons.

If you get coronavirus

If you do get coronavirus, it’s really important that you follow your sick day rules. This will help you to keep your blood sugars in range as much as possible, so you can stay well and fight the virus. We know it’s not that always that simple. Take a look at our new courses in Learning Zone to help you remember your sick day rules and manage your blood sugar levels, and our guide on staying home and managing diabetes.

Some people are being treated for coronavirus with a steroid called dexamethasone, which can make your blood sugars go high. Find out more about the steroid dexamethasone and diabetes.

Remember, for urgent medical help, call 999.

"I’m just trying not to worry too much. I think it’s a case of taking precautions and following the government guidelines, as well as doing my very best to look after my health."

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

How coronavirus can affect children with diabetes

Children typically have mild symptoms if they catch the virus. We are not aware of any children with diabetes who have died from coronavirus. However, as with all people with diabetes, an illness like coronavirus can make it harder to manage your child’s diabetes and the risk of DKA will be higher when they are unwell. A vaccine is the most effective way to prevent getting ill from coronavirus and that's why we strongly encourage anyone who is eligible to get the vaccine - this includes children aged 5 years and above.

How coronavirus can affect pregnancy and 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. It's important you know how to reduce your risk, which includes getting the vaccines.

You can find all the latest information on the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists website.

How coronavirus can affect people 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 know how to reduce their risk of getting coronavirus, including getting the vaccines. You can find more general information in our guide to type 2 diabetes remission.

How coronavirus can affect people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups

The risk of death from coronavirus for some ethnic groups is higher than for people of white ethnicity. But it is important to remember that there are lots of factors involved, like age, and overall risk of dying from coronavirus is very low.

In England and Wales, data from the Office of National Statistics shows how people from certain Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups are more at risk than people of white ethnicity. Research in Scotland hasn’t shown this increased risk, but the BAME population there is very small. And we don’t have data on this in Northern Ireland at the moment.

Data from Office of National Statistics. Covid-19 deaths by ethnicity in England and Wales between 2 March and 10 April 2020.
Data from Office of National Statistics. Covid-19 deaths by ethnicity in England and Wales between 2 March and 10 April 2020.

We don’t know why this is happening. The data takes into account factors which we know can increase risk, such as age, socioeconomic status and health, including obesity. And we do know that some ethnic minority groups are more at risk of developing conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart problems, which are linked to increased risk of death from coronavirus.

It’s clear that we need further research to understand what’s causing this – whether the causes are physical, cultural or social.

Can coronavirus cause diabetes?

There is mixed evidence to suggest that coronavirus might be triggering diabetes in some people, or making the condition worse for others. We've taken a look at the research so far and explain what scientists are doing to find answers.

Long COVID

Long COVID is used to describe signs and symptoms that last for a few weeks or months after having a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19. It can affect your whole body, and your symptoms can change and come and go over time. If you think you might have Long COVID, the first thing you should do is speak to your GP. They will look into your symptoms and first try to find out if there are any other possible causes.

Treatment of Long COVID or COVID fatigue will depend on how long you have been experiencing these symptoms. Treatment is often focused on managing the symptoms and this can vary from person to person.

Some research studies have suggested that having diabetes could make you more likely to develop Long COVID, but it’s too early to know for sure yet. The government has pledged £18.5 million to fund research to better understand and treat the longer-term effects of coronavirus. These projects will help us better understand if diabetes is a risk factor for Long COVID.

Managing both the symptoms of Long COVID and your diabetes may be difficult but make sure you're aware of your sick day rules and take each day as it comes. This can be a difficult time and we are here for you.

Going to work

Wherever you live in the UK, your employer must make sure your workplace is safe – this means doing a risk assessment at work. We know that some people with diabetes don't feel safe going to work, so we have been calling on the government and employers to make it safer.

If you have concerns about your safety at work, we've got more information about your rights in our diabetes and work guide.

Going to appointments or into hospital

If you have coronavirus symptoms, do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital 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 or speak to your GP.

Some of your appointments with your diabetes healthcare team may be on the phone or online, using a video call. Your diabetes healthcare team will give you advice on the best type of appointment for you at this time. Having a phone or video appointment might feel strange if you're not used to it but we've got advice on preparing for a remote appointments.

Most routine appointments like your annual diabetes review that had been delayed or postponed should be going back to normal. In the meantime, follow your current routine including checking your feet daily, keep to a healthy diet and try to keep active. Eye 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).

And remember to get your free flu jab as early as possible. Speak to your GP or go to your local pharmacy. Find out more about the flu jab.

If you are invited to an in-person appointment it’s very important to attend unless you develop coronavirus symptoms.

"Flu increases the risk of needing to go into hospital for people with diabetes so we must do all we can to keep protected against flu this year. That's why the free NHS flu jab is so important."
- Dan Howarth, our Head of Care and Diabetes Specialist Nurse

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.

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 situation, you should go to hospital as you would've done before – the NHS is still open. Read our guide to managing your diabetes while in hospital.

Travel

Travel restrictions differ depending on where you live, so we recommend you check the appropriate guidance before travelling:

Check the UK government website for the latest rules on travelling. You could also check the TravelHealthPro website for the latest travel health guidance.

Take a look at our guide to travelling when you have diabetes for lots more information, including travel insurance to cover coronavirus.

Where can I get more support?

We know some people may not have friends and family able to help while they are staying at home. You may be able to get help from voluntary groups in your area or your local councils or local authorities. Check your government websites for more information.

You could also find out if there's a diabetes local group in your area. Use our postcode search.

Need to talk?

You might be feeling worried and anxious about coronavirus and how it might be affecting 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.

We arranged for Devanshi, who is living with type 1 diabetes and living in Leicester, to meet Anna who works on our helpline. Did you know that you don't need a question about diabetes to call us? Find out what Anna and Devanshi chatted out.

Our coronavirus safety assurances

  • We keep up to date on government guidance for each nation: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • We think about risks to staff, volunteers and members of the public will face and do everything reasonably practicable to minimise them.
  • We carry out risk assessments, which are documented and reviewed regularly, including where we engage with organisations that may come into contact with members of the public on our behalf.
  • We confirm that we have complied with the government’s guidance on managing the risk of COVID-19.

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