These days it’s hard not to worry about whether a quick outing to the grocery store will result in catching COVID-19. But for parents with children who have preexisting health conditions such as diabetes, it can be especially hard not to worry about whether their child is at a higher risk of becoming severely ill from the virus.
Michael Yafi, MD, associate professor of pediatric endocrinology at McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth), shared insight into the impact COVID-19 has on children with diabetes, how uncontrolled diabetes can increase health risks, and offered tips on how to manage diabetes.
“Severe impacts of COVID-19 will depend on diabetes control,” said Yafi, a pediatric endocrinologist with UT Physicians. “If a child has good control of their diabetes, it does not seem as though there will be severe effects if they were to get the virus. However, children with poorly controlled diabetes are at a high risk of becoming severely ill if they were to get the virus.”
How diabetes impacts the immune system
Diabetes develops when the body is unable to regulate its blood glucose levels. Those with Type 1 diabetes have damage to beta cells in the pancreas due to an autoimmune response, and those with Type 2 diabetes have insulin resistance.
Both conditions, if left untreated, can severely weaken the immune system and increase the risk of health complications.
According to Yafi, people with diabetes are more likely to develop infections because high blood sugar levels can weaken a person’s immune system, making it harder to treat viral infections like COVID-19.
“The exact cause of severe outcomes in patients with diabetes and COVID-19 is not yet known, but research suggests that people who have diabetes have weakened immune systems, which can impact their ability to quickly heal from an infection or disease,” Yafi said.
Uncontrolled diabetes can cause inflammation, which further damages the immune system, making it difficult to recover from an illness.
To help manage diabetes and COVID-19 risks, Yafi offers these tips for parents:
- Make sure children wash their hands
- Emphasize the importance of not touching their face
- Avoid unnecessary large gatherings and practice social distancing
- Frequently clean commonly used areas around the house
- Maintain a record of a child’s blood glucose levels
- Have extra supplies on hand in case of emergency
- Practice healthy habits
- Ensure children have a healthy diet
- Encourage daily exercise
Is there a link between COVID-19 and diabetes?
Because COVID-19 has many effects on the body, Yafi said there are concerns about whether the virus may cause patients to develop onset diabetes.
“We know from the history of diabetes that there is a cross-reaction of viral infections and getting diabetes,” Yafi said. “We also know that the previous SARS-CoV-2 virus might have triggered an immune response in patients, like onset diabetes. However, that is still to be determined because we do not have any global epidemiological information about the association between diabetes and previous COVID-19 infection.”
More research is needed to determine whether or not there is link between COVID-19 and onset diabetes, Yafi said.