Patients with diabetes may have an increased risk of developing coronavirus infection (COVID-19), along with increased risks of morbidity and mortality, according to researchers writing in Diabetes & Metabolic Syndrome.
Although relevant clinical data remain scarce, patients with diabetes should take extra precautions to avoid infection and, if infected, may require special care, reported Ritesh Gupta, MD, of Fortis C-DOC Hospital, New Delhi, and colleagues.
“The disease severity [with COVID-19] has varied from mild, self-limiting, flu-like illness to fulminant pneumonia, respiratory failure, and death,” the authors wrote.
As of March 16, 2020, the World Health Organization reported 167,515 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 6,606 deaths from around the world, with a mortality rate of 3.9%. But the actual mortality rate may be lower, the authors suggested, because a study involving more than 1,000 confirmed cases reported a mortality rate of 1.4%.
“Considering that the number of unreported and unconfirmed cases is likely to be much higher than the reported cases, the actual mortality may be less than 1%, which is similar to that of severe seasonal influenza,” the authors said, in reference to an editorial by Anthony S. Fauci, MD, and colleagues in the New England Journal of Medicine. In addition, they noted, mortality rates may vary by region.
The largest study relevant to patients with diabetes, which involved 72,314 cases of COVID-19, showed that patients with diabetes had a threefold higher mortality rate than did those without diabetes (7.3% vs. 2.3%, respectively). These figures were reported by the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.
However, data from smaller cohorts with diabetes and COVID-19 have yielded mixed results. For instance, one study, involving 140 patients from Wuhan, suggested that diabetes was not a risk factor for severe disease, and in an analysis of 11 studies reporting on laboratory abnormalities in patients with a diagnosis of COVID-19, raised blood sugar levels or diabetes were not mentioned among the predictors of severe disease.
“Our knowledge about the prevalence of COVID-19 and disease course in people with diabetes will evolve as more detailed analyses are carried out,” the authors wrote. “For now, it is reasonable to assume that people with diabetes are at increased risk of developing infection. Coexisting heart disease, kidney disease, advanced age, and frailty are likely to further increase the severity of disease.”
“It is important that people with diabetes maintain good glycemic control, because it might help in reducing the risk of infection and the severity,” the authors wrote.
In addition to more frequent monitoring of blood glucose levels, they recommended other preventive measures, such as getting adequate nutrition, exercising, and being current with vaccinations for influenza and pneumonia. The latter, they said, may also reduce the risk of secondary bacterial pneumonia after a respiratory viral infection.
In regard to nutrition, adequate protein intake is important and “any deficiencies of minerals and vitamins need to be taken care of,” they advised. Likewise, exercise is known to improve immunity and should continue, but they suggest avoiding gyms and swimming pools.
For patients with coexisting heart and/or kidney disease, they also recommended efforts to stabilize cardiac/renal status.
In addition, the general preventive measures, such as regular and thorough hand washing with soap and water, practicing good respiratory hygiene by sneezing and coughing into a bent elbow or a facial tissue, and avoiding contact with anyone who is infected, should be observed.
As with other patients with chronic diseases that are managed long-term medications, patients with diabetes should always ensure that they have a sufficient supply of their medications and refills, if possible.