Diabetic? Here’s How To Avoid COVID-19
We have all been repeatedly told that the elderly, particularly those above 60, and those with pre-existing illnesses like cardio-vascular diseases or “co-morbitities” are more vulnerable to serious COVID-19 infections.
India currently ranks fourth among the countries worst hit by the virus. It also has around 77 million people afflicted with diabetes, which means every sixth person with diabetes in the world is an Indian. We also have a very large number of pre-diabetics.
Though there is no concrete evidence yet that people with diabetes are at higher risk of contracting the virus, uncontrolled diabetes can be detrimental for COVID-19 patients. “In general people with diabetes face greater risks of complications when dealing with viral infections like flu, and that is likely to be true with COVID-19,” says the American Diabetes Association.
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To analyse the degree of risk that diabetics face of getting infected with COVID-19, we must understand how are they are interconnected. As per a study published in peer-reviewed journal Cell Stem Cell SARS-CoV-2, the causative agent of COVID-19, may damage of pancreatic cells in our body, which are responsible for controlling blood sugar. This leads to an inevitable clash between two pandemics.
When diabetic people fall sick with viral infection, they have an increased risk of experiencing diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a condition that occurs due to shortage of insulin in the body. This makes a person feel more thirsty and tired than usual. They also show signs of confusion and blurred vision and may faint within 24 hours. This also weakens the immune system, and the infection thrives better in an environment of elevated blood glucose. The elderly with advanced diabetic complications are even more susceptible to become severely ill with COVID-19 virus.
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Diabetes also elevates a person’s risk of heart diseases. A recent study published in JAMA Cardiology revealed that COVID-19 can either cause heart problems, or cause cardiac injury in people with pre-existing heart conditions.
Social distancing and the lockdown has also impacted the psychological health of the people. While diabetes in itself is a tough condition to deal with, these restrictions often lead to anincrease in the anxiety levels, mental stress and disruptions in the sleep patterns. Alterations in dietary habits, physical inactivity, difficulty in procuring medications, insulin, test strips
and inability to seek guidance from physicians can lead to poor glycemic control and weight gain among the patients, making the matter much worse.
While medication and vaccinations are thought to be the most viable ways of curing a disease, nothing can replace good nutrition. Unhealthy diets often lead to a lot of health issues.
Malnutrition severely weakens the immune system, and proportionately increases the chances of being infected and dying because of illness.
The WHO guidance on diet, especially during the current pandemic states that “good nutrition is crucial for health, particularly in times when the immune system might need to fight back.”
Good nutrition is crucial for improving immunity. Including fresh fruits and vegetables in your daily diet imparts antioxidants to our bodies to fight infections and provide speedy recovery. As consumption of good diet is important for us, so is the necessity regular meal times. Ensuring proper timings, having meals comprising vegetables and fruits, staying hydrated and having home cooked meals can play a major role in preventing the infection.
Excess sugar consumption is the primary cause for many ailments, due to which our immunity level may also be affected. It is thus important to cut down the intake of soft drinks, sodas and other drinks that are high in sugar like fruit juices, fruit juice concentrates and syrups, flavoured milks and yogurt drinks.
Physical exercise has always been considered the key to a good health. Regular physical activity and good sleeping pattern help improve glycemic control, keeping diabetics somewhat safer. They must also ensure to keep a list of all the medications and supplements they take, including insulin and glucagon. It is essential to stock a month’s supply of all medications other essential requirements like glucose test strips, ketone strips, plain glucose insulin pen and glucagon pen during these dangerous times.
Important Note: Before giving oneself an insulin shot, it is essential to wash hands thoroughly. It is essential for the patients to keep a regular tab on their health, and consult the dietician or the physicians when needed. And of course, the standard safe practices like social distancing, regular washing of hands, wearing a mask and avoiding crowded places must be scrupulously followed.
Though diabetics might be more vulnerable to infection, the steps listed above can help reduce the odds.
(The author is a clinical dietitian, certified diabetes educator, and a life member of Indian Dietetic Association)