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Updates: Coronavirus and diabetes

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UPDATED 5 JULY: This page is up to date but we will continue updating it regularly as we find out more information from the government. 

We recently updated our information on how steroids can affect your diabetes, because the steroid dexamethasone is being used to treat coronavirus.

On this page:

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 our other coronavirus news stories in our News Hub.

We are continuing to push the government to make sure the guidance reflects what we know about the risks to people with diabetes, and that you’re protected and supported – whether at home or at work. Find out more about our coronavirus campaign.

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. Use these links to stay up to date in your local area:

How coronavirus can affect people with diabetes

If you have diabetes – regardless of what type you have – you are no more likely to catch coronavirus than anyone else. And 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 vulnerable to developing a severe illness if they do get coronavirus, but the way it affects you can vary from person to person.

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). 

For most people, coronavirus is a mild illness, but some people develop a more serious form of the virus and sadly could die. Research shows us that there are certain risk factors that make you more at risk, like being from a Black, Asian or minority ethnic group, increased age, a BMI over 30, a history of high HbA1c, or complications such as heart failure or kidney disease. There are some risk factors that you can't change, but others where you can reduce your risk.

How to reduce your risk of getting coronavirus

The UK government is easing lockdown restrictions in some areas of the UK and the advice for some people with diabetes in England is changing on 4 July. This is only changing for those who aren't already self-isolating or shielding – these rules aren't changing on 4 July.

From 4 July, you can leave your home more and go inside other people's homes. However you still need to be extra careful with following social distancing rules and washing your hands. You should wear a face mask on public transport and anywhere else you can’t easily socially distance, like in a shop. If you have diabetes and you're planning on inviting friends or family into your home, speak to them about whether they have had coronavirus symptoms. However mild these symptoms are, they shouldn't be visiting.

Find out more about these changes on the government website.

These rules are changing at different times across the UK. For more information about what's happening where you live, take a look at our information on coronavirus in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland

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.

"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

How coronavirus can affect children with diabetes

Although children can catch the virus, they normally have very mild symptoms and 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 they still have a risk of DKA. So it is important that you make sure your child follows social distancing and handwashing recommendations to reduce their risk of catching it. 

Get more information about children and school.

How coronavirus can affect pregnant women with 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're extra careful and follow social distancing rules.

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

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 carefully follow social distancing rules. 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. We are pushing for clearer guidance from the government on risks to people from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Coronavirus deaths in people with diabetes

Recent data from NHS England showed us that, for those who become so unwell with coronavirus that they need to go to hospital, the risk of dying is higher for people living with diabetes than people without the condition. Most deaths have been in the elderly with very few under the age of 40 and none in children.

This study only looked at the number of people who have died in hospital as a result of coronavirus. It doesn’t include information on the many thousands who have recovered at home or who have been successfully discharged from hospital. We are calling on the government and NHS to ensure this data is used to update guidance and policies to keep people protected and supported. 

Here our Head of Research Communications, Dr Lucy Chambers, explains more about the risk factors, including type of diabetes, age and ethnicity, and why overall your risk of dying remains very low. Although this research is England based, we believe this level of risk will be true in all nations. And to find out more detail on these statistics, go to our coronavirus deaths in people with diabetes news story.

We’re funding 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.

Do people with diabetes have to shield?

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 if they catch coronavirus. It means staying at home almost all of the time, with no face-to-face contact. In some areas of the UK, you can now leave your home and see people outside of your household. If you are shielding and do meet someone outside, make sure you follow stringent social distancing. These rules are changing regularly – get the latest UK Government advice on shielding.

So what is meant by clinically extremely vulnerable? These include people with certain types of cancers and severe respiratory conditions. 

People with diabetes are not in the clinically extremely vulnerable group (shielding group). People with diabetes are in the 'clinically vulnerable group'. This means you should still stay at home as much as possible and if you do go out, be really careful to avoid contact with people you don't live with.

Although there may be some people with diabetes who need to shield based on other conditions, for example those with cystic fibrosis-related diabetes. 

Based on the latest data, we do not think that shielding is appropriate for all people with diabetes. But we do think that people with diabetes at higher risk – those over 70 or with other risk factors – should be contacted by their healthcare teams to talk about their support needs, including if shielding is right for them. If it’s appropriate, your healthcare team should be able to get a shielding letter issued so that you get the right support. We’re raising all of this with the government and NHS to urge for a consistent approach to discussions about shielding and other ways to keep people protected and supported, especially as we start to move out of lockdown.

Speak to your healthcare team if you’re very worried about your risk, or call our helpline team to talk things through.

Going to work

Employers should do everything possible to support you to work from home or make your workplace safe if you can't work from home. Here's some guidance based on your situation. 

If you’re a parent with diabetes working at home

There is no obligation to send your child back to school when they reopen. We know some of you are worried about your child bringing the virus home, and that’s understandable. Speak to your GP or diabetes team about this – they will help you make this decision.

If you can’t work from home and have diabetes

Your employer must make sure your workplace is safe – this means doing a risk assessment at work. Or speak to your employer about the government furlough scheme. We are calling for clearer government guidance here.

Find out more about your rights at work.

If you can’t work from home and have a child with diabetes

If you’re a key worker, you can take them to school. And in some areas of the UK, schools are starting to open for other children.

We are pressing the government to make sure that people with diabetes are protected and supported – whether at work or at home.

Support our campaign 

"I've been unsure as to what I was supposed to be doing, but the school said they don’t expect to see me for the foreseeable future. It was really nice to get that reassurance."

- Jon talked to us about managing diabetes and working as a teacher during lockdown, read his story

Children and school

Everyone, including children with diabetes, can get coronavirus. The rules about on social distancing apply to children with diabetes too.

If you are a parent and you are a key worker, then you are able to keep taking your child to school. And in some areas of the UK, government is starting a phased return of more children going back to school. 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.

You may be worried about the safety of your child returning to school if they have diabetes. We recommend speaking to the school and to your child’s diabetes team about your concerns – they should be able to give you the information you need to help you make a decision. Here's more information for parents of children with diabetes on what you should expect from the school.

While the risk of children with diabetes becoming seriously ill with coronavirus is very low, we’ve been in touch with the Department for Education to raise your concerns and ask that when their school-specific guidance is published, it includes guidance on supporting children with health conditions too. 

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.

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.

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 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.

Getting food, medicines and tech

We know some people have had challenges getting access to food deliveries and the food you need to stay healthy. We have written to the major supermarkets and are actively monitoring the situation. 

You’ve also been asking about medicines and diabetes technology. 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. Some organisations like 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.

Where can I get more support?

Volunteers are here to help

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.

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 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.

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