New NHS research into diabetes and coronavirus has found that people living with diabetes face a significantly higher risk of dying with COVID-19 with a third of deaths in England associated with the condition.
Due to be published this week, the world-leading studies reveal that people living with type 1 diabetes are at three and a half times the risk, and people living with type 2 are at double the risk of dying in hospital with the virus, compared to people without diabetes.
However, by far the strongest risk factor for dying with the virus is age, and people with type 1 diabetes are on average younger than people with type 2 diabetes.
Overall, 7466 of those who died in hospitals in England had type 2 and 365 who died had type 1 diabetes, and the research suggests that the threat for those under 40 with type 1 or type 2 diabetes is very low, with no recorded deaths in those under 20.
It is thought that the risk to people with diabetes and the virus is in line with the extra risk seen in other infectious conditions such as pneumonia.
The study also shows that in people with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, even when all other known factors are taken into account, higher blood glucose levels and obesity are linked to higher risk.
Findings also show:
- The overall death rate for people with diabetes doubled during the early stage of the pandemic.
- 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.
The health service in England has called on people with diabetes to access help available to them, including a new dedicated helpline and online tools to help manage the condition during the outbreak.
Video consultations and online appointments, as well as routine discussions with GPs, are among a range of measures that the NHS has adopted so that diabetes care can continue throughout the pandemic.
A dedicated helpline has also been introduced, together with Diabetes UK, Novo Nordisk and Insulet, to advise those who need help with insulin.
The new helpline is part of a package of measures already in place for people with diabetes or at risk, including the world-leading Diabetes Prevention Programme, which has already successfully helped almost 90,000 people who were at risk of type 2, to lose a combined weight of more than 407,967 pounds.
Patients will also receive additional support from online education services for type 1 and type 2 diabetes to help them to manage their condition better.
Professor Jonathan Valabhji, National Clinical Director for Diabetes and Obesity and lead author of the study said: “This research shows the extent of the risk of coronavirus for people with diabetes and the different risks for those with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
“Importantly, it also shows that higher blood glucose levels and obesity further increase the risk in both types of diabetes.
“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, including online sites to support people to care for themselves, digital consultations, and a dedicated new helpline for advice and support for people treated with insulin.”
Bridget Turner is Director of Policy at Diabetes UK also commented on the research, she 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 consistent with what we know about the impact of coronavirus on the general population; that poorer outcomes are very strongly linked to older age. The numbers of people with all types of diabetes dying in hospital from coronavirus under the age of 40 were incredibly small, suggesting the risk for younger people is considerably lower.
“It also shows that the risk of death for people with diabetes is higher than for people without the condition – with the risk for people with type 1 being higher than for those with type 2 – and that a history of higher blood sugar levels as well as obesity seem to be contributing factors.
“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. It’s also important to remember that the numbers of children and young people with type 1, and those under the age of 40 who have died from coronavirus are very small.
“We know people with diabetes will want to know what they can do to keep themselves safe. 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.”