COVID and Diabetes Saga Continues with More Observations


Diabetes is a health disorder in which the body does not generate or appropriately use the insulin. Insulin is a hormone that converts starches, sugar, and other food into energy required for daily life. The cause of diabetes is a mystery, although genetics and environment play a role. People with diabetes usually get high levels of sugar in their blood. Over time, high blood sugar can adversely affect the nerves and blood vessels.

Diabetes is a severe problem for a lot of people. Estimates suggest that 9.4 percent of the population suffers from this disease, and of those slightly more than 7 million people, nearly 25% of adults don’t realize they may be suffering from it. And that’s just in the United States. Then, there is a condition called prediabetes that indicates that the person is a borderline case with their blood glucose levels being more than average but less than what makes them a diabetes patient. It may sound alarming that an additional 84 million people belong to this category. So that means 1 in 3 people are susceptible to type 2 diabetes, which can affect the kidney and eyes. Only a sigh of relief is that type 2 condition is preventable if someone follows a healthy lifestyle, as suggested by MyBioSource. Or one can delay its onset.

The connection between diabetes and COVID

Since the virus outbreak, there have been unmistakable voices raising the alarm for people with an underlying condition like diabetes about how this can make them severely ill if they contract the infection. However, the appearance of type 2 diabetes in coronavirus patient’s weeks or even months after they catch it continues to perplex doctors. While the link between COVID and diabetes has been well-established, the mechanisms behind this delayed onset are still mostly a mystery. Two studies – one from the US and one from Germany – have provided some insights into this phenomenon.

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The health system of the US Department of Veterans Affairs conducted a survey on over 180k people with a history of COVID infection. The study elicited that about 40% of them seemed more vulnerable to developing diabetes than those who avoided getting infected. Nearly 13.5 per 1000 infected patients are likely to catch diabetes. People who were less likely to experience this also had the same risks, added Washington University’s clinical epidemiologist. The trouble was deeper with ICU patients. More precisely, the virus may trigger diabetes in previously healthy people. It can also increase the risk for those with a predisposition to the disease.

However, a question that still demands an answer is if the virus directly impacts the beta cells in your pancreas that make insulin or if diabetes is a side effect of the viral strain’s interaction with fat cells. Some experts opine that prescription steroids for inflammation caused by COVID-19 can also be a culprit as they tend to spike blood sugar levels, leading to diabetes. 

No matter the link between these two conditions, the health experts warn these can prove expensive for one’s wellbeing and fatal too. The studies show that seven million people face death due to diabetes a year, making it one case in five seconds. People aged 20 to 79 spend about USD$ 966 billion on this disorder. Interestingly, this figure was USD$ 232 billion in 2007. At a global level, the total money spent on this treatment accounts for 11.5% of overall health expenditure because it also involves complications like kidney failure, stroke, blindness, foot ulcers, etc. 

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Factors leading to COVID complications in diabetes patients

One culprit can be the SETDB2 enzyme. This enzyme is responsible for regulating the levels of sugar in the blood. When levels of SETDB2 are too low, blood sugar levels can increase, leading to diabetes. Interestingly, the SETDB2 enzyme is also involved in replicating the novel coronavirus. It means that controlling the enzyme could potentially stop the virus from spreading. It needs some more research, but the potential implications are exciting.

Things to be careful about for protection from the severity of the infection

On noticing COVID-19-like symptoms, experts suggest that patients should not stop their diabetes medicines and check their blood sugar every three to four hours. Drinking liquids like water, broth, tea, and others every hour would keep the person hydrated. Diabetes type 1 cases need to monitor their ketones if blood sugar is not high. You may want to consult your doctor if you detect ketones in the medium to high range. And one should not hesitate to seek emergency care if they develop blue skin or lips, experience chest pain or heaviness, breathing issues, etc.

People with pre-existing medical conditions have a high risk of infection and severe illness. BA.5 variant may not make people too sick, but it can threaten your wellbeing. So don’t take any chance. Get vaccinated and boosted. Wear your mask as required.