Covid-19 hits people with diabetes harder than non-diabetics, say experts

Published May 25, 2021
Experts advised people at risk of getting diabetes to get themselves screened for diabetes once or twice a year. —AP/File
Experts advised people at risk of getting diabetes to get themselves screened for diabetes once or twice a year. —AP/File

KARACHI: People living with poor diabetes control are more prone to various types of infectious diseases, including Covid-19 as well as lethal infections like mucormycosis, or ‘black fungus’, as the health condition reduces a person’s ability to fight bacteria, viruses and fungus, experts associated with pandemic control measures, care and treatment in Pakistan warned on Monday.

They said in Pakistan several million people were undiagnosed diabetics who were unaware of their health condition, and they could contract infectious diseases more easily than healthier persons. They advised people at risk of getting diabetes to get themselves screened for diabetes once or twice a year.

“People with diabetes, mainly those with uncontrolled diabetes, can contract the infections both directly or indirectly,” said Dr Faisal Mehmood, an eminent infectious diseases expert, while commenting on the risk of infections in diabetics. “Due to peripheral neuropathy, or damage to nerves, people don’t feel any pain or sensation when their fingers in the feet are wounded, and these wounds become infected which can lead to amputations.”

‘Millions of people in Pakistan are diabetics, but they are undiagnosed’

Similarly, he said, risk of having severe disease due to Covid-19 was higher in people with diabetes than non-diabetics. Even people with diabetes contracting pneumonia could get more severely sick than those who were non-diabetics, he said, but added that the risk of getting severely sick among diabetics in some infectious diseases, including malaria and dengue fever, was not known yet.

He maintained that most of the people who had mucormycosis were diabetics and when they were given steroids for treatment, their immunity further weakened and they contracted the lethal fungal infection that led to their deaths.

Another health expert, Prof Dr Akhtar Ali Baloch from Dow University of Health Sciences (DUHS) also confirmed that people living with diabetes were more likely to contract various types of infections, including Covid-19, as compared to healthy people as they had reduced immunity and added that diabetic people should get their sugar controlled with all the interventions suggested by physicians and experts.

“Diabetics are not only more susceptible to infections but they are also at a higher risk of having complications as in case of Covid-19 as diabetics get more seriously sick after infection with the coronavirus as compared to non-diabetics and healthy people,” said Prof Baloch, who’s the director of the National Institute of Diabetes and Endocrinology at DUHS. “Similarly, there are millions of people in Pakistan who are diabetics but they are undiagnosed. When they contract infections repeatedly, they get their sugar checked and learn that they are diabetics.”

He said that a conservative estimate suggested that around 10 million people in Pakistan were undiagnosed diabetics and in such conditions the people who had a family history of diabetes and those who were over 40 years of age with obesity were advised to get themselves screened for diabetes.

Discovering Diabetes project

A public health expert, Dr Babar Saeed Khan, advised people to take advantage of ‘Discovering Diabetes’, a project aimed at finding undiagnosed patients of diabetes in Pakistan.

“This is a kind of welfare project which has been launched by Pakistan Endocrine Society,” he said. “The sole purpose of this project is to keep Pakistanis healthy and diabetic-free. This is free of cost and in fact a result of sincere and honest efforts of the country’s health professionals. You only need to call on the toll-free number of Discovering Diabetes, ie 0800-66766, and seek free advice about your health status.”

He said the project was launched to find millions of missing diabetics and a helpline had been established to help people know their status of diabetes and get a consultation with leading diabetologists of the country.

He also urged the federal and provincial authorities to give equal emphasis to non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and sought their help with their project to reach out to around four million undiagnosed diabetics in Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, May 25th, 2021

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