A woman infecting herself with insulin to treat type 1 diabetes Image copyright Getty Images

People with diabetes are being offered help and support as a study reveals some people with the condition may be at higher risk if they catch coronavirus.

Although the threat of coronavirus is still low for most diabetic people, diabetes was linked to a third of virus deaths in England from 1 March to 11 May, NHS England research shows.

High blood sugar levels and obesity add to the risk.

But age is a bigger risk factor.

People with type 1 or 2 diabetes are strongly advised to follow the government’s coronavirus advice.

Diabetics are not included in the list of people at highest risk who should shield at home, although some may be advised to shield if they are at significant risk due to a combination of health factors.

There is a helpline and online advice which people with diabetes can use to help manage their condition during the coronavirus outbreak.

High blood pressure and obesity risks

Assessing individual coronavirus risk is important.

Someone might have underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, and still be very fit and only experience mild symptoms if they catch coronavirus.

Research suggests the threat for those under 40 with type 1 (insulin-dependent) or type 2 diabetes is very low.

Some people may have other risk factors – such as heart disease or high blood pressure and obesity as well as diabetes – which would put them at much higher risk of complications.

Age remains the strongest risk factor for becoming severely or fatally ill with coronavirus, say experts.

Data shows:

  • Between 1 March and 11 May, there were 23,804 coronavirus-related deaths in hospitals in England
  • 7,466 of the deceased had type 2 diabetes (which affects mostly adults) and 365 had type 1 diabetes (which most often develops in childhood)
  • Other risk factors along with diabetes need to be taken into account
  • When all known factors are taken into account, higher blood glucose levels and obesity are linked to higher risk
  • In both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, men, people of black or Asian ethnicity, and people living in more deprived communities, were at higher risk
  • In both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, those with pre-existing kidney disease, heart failure and previous stroke, were also at higher risk

Prof Jonathan Valabhji, national clinical director for diabetes and obesity and lead author of the study said: “This can be worrying news but we would like to reassure people that the NHS is here for anyone with concerns about diabetes – and has put extra measures in place to help people and keep them safe.”

What are type 1 and type 2 diabetes?

Diabetes is a long-term condition that causes a person’s blood sugar level to become too high.

In the UK, about 90% of all adults with diabetes have type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 can often be prevented by losing weight, eating healthily and being active.

Type 1, on the other hand, is not preventable – it just happens, often starting in childhood, and scientists still can’t explain why.

What to do

Bridget Turner from Diabetes UK said: “This new data sheds much-needed light on which groups of people with diabetes are more likely to experience poor outcomes if they catch coronavirus.

“It’s very important to remember that the risk of dying from coronavirus – for people with and without diabetes – remains very low, and that as cases of coronavirus decline, the risk to everyone of catching the disease will reduce in turn.

“The most important thing anyone with diabetes can do is try their best to manage their condition carefully, keeping their blood sugar in range as much as possible. All people with diabetes should also follow stringent social distancing measures to reduce their chances of catching the virus altogether.”

Doctors say if you are concerned about your diabetes during the coronavirus pandemic:

  • Contact your GP practice or diabetes team
  • If you have diabetes and have been contacted by your specialist eye or foot care team, please go to your appointments to receive treatment to avoid these problems getting worse. Clinics are taking extra protective measures to keep people safe
  • The 4Ts – toilet, thirsty, tired and thinner – are signs of a life-threatening diabetic emergency, diabetic ketoacidosis or DKA. If you recognise these signs, seek urgent medical advice from your GP Practice (or 111 out of hours); if you already have diabetes, contact your diabetes team; or if you feel very unwell, call 999
  • If you have diabetes and see a cut or blister on your foot, it may be a sign of a foot ulcer. Call your GP practice to get it checked as soon as possible. If you do have an ulcer or other serious foot problem, you will be referred to see a specialist urgently
  • If you are experiencing a serious or life-threatening emergency – call 999