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People With Diabetes Are At Higher Risk For Serious COVID-19 Illness, Complications

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COVID-19 poses a more serious risk to people with underlying health conditions and chronic illnesses, including both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. In Bexar County, the coronavirus pandemic is now layered on top of an existing disparity-and-diabetes crisis.

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes are diseases that result in too much sugar in the blood because the body doesn't make any or enough of the hormone insulin, which keeps that glucose from building up. 

Diabetics are generally more likely to experience severe symptoms and complications when infected with a virus like COVID-19, especially if the disease isn't being managed well. An estimated 14% of Bexar County's population lives with Type 2, which can develop as a result of a sedentary and otherwise unhealthy lifestyle.

The pandemic is exposing disparities in almost every facet of life and Americans' access to health care is no exception. About 5 million Texans didn't have health insurance in 2018 -- nearly double the national average -- and the state is one of 14 that has not expanded Medicaid. 

Insulin price hikes forced many diabetics to ration the medication, which can be life-threatening as it is intended to be taken at the prescribed full dose to prevent complications. Will the global pandemic further impact access to insulin and other diabetic supplies? 

Many Americans are unaware that they're living with diabetes or prediabetes. At least 621,000 Texans don't know they are living with diabetes, per the American Diabetes Association.

The metabolic disease affects how the immune system responds to infections. If a person with diabetes becomes infected with COVID-19, increased inflammation and internal swelling can make it harder to fight a virus like COVID-19.

How vigilant should diabetics be during the pandemic? Is there any evidence that they are more likely to contract the coronavirus? What are the symptoms and warning signs to look out for?

What should parents do to protect children with diabetes? Are the risks different for type 1 and type 2? What about people with diabetes who are on dialysis or need other treatment amid the public health crisis?

How do experts suggest people with or at risk for diabetes maintain a healthy diet and be physically active while under Bexar County's stay-at-home order? What local resources are available to help people manage diabetes during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond?


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*This interview was recorded on Tuesday, April 14.

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Kim Johnson is the producer for Texas Public Radio’s live, call-in show The Source. She is a Trinity University alum with bachelor’s degrees in Communication and Spanish, and a Master of Arts Degree from the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin.
Dallas Williams is a Producer for The Source at Texas Public Radio. With a degree in Mass Communication — Broadcast Media, Dallas brings a unique perspective and a passion to producing a live, call-talk show.