A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Diabetics are a high-risk population, vulnerable to complications for COVID-19; take extra precautions

By Maridith Yahl
NKyTribune reporter

Worldwide, an estimated 463 million adults are living with diabetes according to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) and Beyond Type 1. The Kentucky Health Department estimates over 630,000 Kentuckians live with diabetes, labeling it a Public Health Epidemic. With the onset of the COVID-19 Pandemic, the lives of those living with the disease got more complicated and dangerous.

Diabetics are vulnerable to severe complications and death from COVID-19. Implementing simple behavior changes can protect the diabetic community.

“It’s pretty clear that diabetes broadly is a risk factor based on the numbers we’re seeing. We don’t know a lot about what that means for each individual, but I think it’s smart for everyone who’s impacted by diabetes to consider themselves high-risk,” says Dana Howe, Director of Brand Communications at Beyond Type 1, based in California. Howe spoke to NKyTribune via ZOOM.

Dana Howe

Type I Diabetes is an autoimmune disease, meaning the body attacks itself.

“Their immune system has targeted their own bodies and attacks those cells as if they’re some sort of intruder, but they’re not,” says Howe. “In the case of Type I Diabetes the beta cells in the pancreas, that create insulin, get targeted by the person’s own immune system and destroyed. Ultimately your ability to produce insulin goes away,” says Howe.

Eastern Kentuckian Paula Fairchild volunteers for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) and is a Grassroots Leader. She volunteers on her own time as a Diabetes Mentor. Fairchild knows first-hand how vulnerable Type I diabetics are, her daughter was diagnosed with Type I in 2004 at the young age of 7.

Fairchild says those with autoimmune diseases makes having an ordinary illness like the common cold very difficult.

“An illness makes it more difficult to manage glucose levels,” Fairchild says. For someone with Type I diabetes, a cold could be the equivalent of pneumonia. Those with diabetes already practice good handwashing, hygiene, distancing, and staying away from others who are sick.

When it comes to COVID-19, extra precautions above the norm must be taken.

“For us and the families I’m in frequent contact with here in Kentucky through a network of support, we have all been scrupulous about handwashing and staying home just around the people that you live with,” Fairchild says.

Her clients across the state, including Northern Kentucky, have a designated person who goes to the grocery store, utilizes curbside pickup, or even organizes delivery. She says it gives them peace of mind protecting themselves and their loved ones.

With places beginning to open around the state, Fairchild has advice for her clients. She says each family must decide what is best for their needs. She tells them to follow the guidelines Governor Beshear and his team have implemented.

Paula Fairchild’s daughter, Emilee, has Type I diabetes.

“I’ve just stressed to be educated, to follow the guidelines the JDRF and Beyond Type 1 have publicized,” Fairchild says.

Be mindful of all the recommendations and continue to frequently hand wash, wear a mask, maintain good social distancing, and limit contact with others as much as possible. Fairchild says all of this “to give time to adjust and for everyone to see where this is going.”

For all diabetics to get through this pandemic Fairchild says, “I think it’s important to prioritize their own health, safety, and wellness. Stay hydrated, follow proper nutrition, maintain physical activity, virtually socialize with another to keep that mental health positive, and not feel isolated.”

She is adamant that testing blood glucose levels continue and to keep an adequate supply of food and needed medications. Sometimes, she says, it can feel it has all become too much. In that case, reach out.

“Reach out if they’re having trouble dealing with the stresses of it, or have questions about their safety, health, or future, because so much of this has been uncharted territory,” Fairchild says.

It can feel lonely being in a high-risk group as diabetics are. With places opening, mental health can suffer, Howe says.

To combat this, “Get connected to the digital, an online community and network of support, both locally through Facebook groups and Instagram platforms or on a bigger scale. If people want to come to find us online, Beyond Type 1 also does lots of online community building. Identifying as being in a high-risk group and saying, ‘OK you can all go out, but I can’t,’ is really isolating, adding to that already isolating illness. So, come join the online community,” says Howe.

Both Howe and Fairchild recommend all diabetics go to this website to find guidelines and resources about diabetes and COVID-19. JDRF and Beyond Type 1 joined forces to create an alliance to “tap into the power of the global diabetes community to save lives.”

The recommendations included on the site are supported by 105 international organizations working to stop the spread of COVID-19 including, The American Diabetes Association and Harvard Medical School.

Type I Diabetics can find more information here. For more information about Type II diabetes click here

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