Coronavirus outbreak: Precautions diabetics need to take

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Coronavirus: Diabetics should avoid visiting hospitals. (representative image, Express photo by Javed Raja)

With more and more cases of coronavirus being confirmed worldwide, experts have advised people to take all sorts of precautions possible to avoid the risk of being infected -- from disinfecting surfaces to washing hands frequently. The precautions are crucial more so in the case of people with low immunity, like those who have diabetes, suggest experts.

Actor Tom Hanks, who recently tested positive for coronavirus, has been living with type 2 diabetes, raising questions about whether diabetics are at an increased at risk of contracting the coronavirus infection.

It is not like diabetics are more prone to getting infected, Dr Tejal Lathia, Consultant Endocrinologist, Hiranandani Hospital, Vashi- A Fortis Network Hospital, told indianexpress. com. She said, "The only thing is that the risk of complications as a result of the infection is more in patients with diabetes. Especially if you are an elderly person with long-standing diabetes, say about 50-65 years of age."

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A person who has excellent diabetic control will be less likely to be infected just because of their immunity. But that is not the case all the time. (Photo: Getty Images/Thinkstock)

Patients with diabetes have a compromised immune function especially if the disease is not well-controlled, Dr Lathia explained. According to International Diabetes Federation, "When people with diabetes develop a viral infection, it can be harder to treat due to fluctuations in blood glucose levels and, possibly, the presence of diabetes complications...Firstly, the immune system is compromised, making it harder to fight the virus and likely leading to a longer recovery period. Secondly, the virus may thrive in an environment of elevated blood glucose."

Read| Simple lifestyle changes to reduce your blood sugar level naturally

Dr Lathia added, "A person who has excellent diabetic control will be less likely to be infected just because of their immunity. But that is not the case all the time."

It is not just diabetes but also people's age, both put together that can impact their chances of being infected, she emphasised. A recent Lancet study also concluded that older people and those with diabetes are more at risk of getting coronavirus. “Poorer outcomes in older people may be due, in part, to the age-related weakening of the immune system and increased inflammation that could promote viral replication and more prolonged responses to inflammation, causing lasting damage to the heart, brain, and other organs,” the study said.

Do patients with diabetes need to take special precautions? Not quite, Dr Lathia said but they should follow all the usual recommended precautions. "If patients who have diabetes are doing well and do not have an emergency, they should ideally avoid visiting any hospital for even a routine check-up for the next few weeks. That's because when you go to a hospital, the chances of being exposed to infection are more. They may be sitting next to someone who does not have any symptoms but that does not mean they do not have any infection. Social distancing is way more important for a patient with diabetes as compared to others," she advised.