For weeks, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned that people with diabetes, along with certain other health conditions, are at higher risk for developing serious illness caused by the new coronavirus. At first, these warnings were based largely on the experiences of other countries where COVID-19 (the illness caused by the coronavirus) spread before it did in the United States. But now, the CDC has released a report showing that people with diabetes do, in fact, make up a disproportionate share of serious COVID-19 cases in this country.
To get cutting-edge diabetes news, strategies for blood glucose management, nutrition tips, healthy recipes, and more delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our free newsletter!
Diabetes and other conditions may increase risk of hospitalization
According to the CDC, diabetes, chronic lung disease, and cardiovascular disease are the most commonly reported preexisting conditions in people with severe COVID-19 (meaning infections that require hospitalization). As of March 28, there were 122,653 reported cases of COVID-19 in U.S. states and territories. Out of these cases, 7,162 included data on underlying health conditions. Among this group with available data, 37.6% of people with COVID-19 had a preexisting serious health condition, while 62.4% did not.
But these numbers change quickly when it comes to serious cases of COVID-19, rather than all cases. Among people who required hospitalization but not admission to an ICU, 71% had a serious preexisting condition. For those who required ICU admission, 78% had a serious health condition. In contrast, among people with COVID-19 who weren’t hospitalized, just 27% had a serious preexisting condition.
Another way to look at these numbers is that among people without a serious preexisting health condition who get COVID-19, about 38 won’t require hospitalization for every 1 person who requires ICU admission and 3 people who require hospitalization without ICU admission. But among people with serious preexisting conditions who get COVID-19, only about 4 won’t require hospitalization for every 1 person who requires ICU admission and 2 people who require hospitalization without ICU admission.
Out of all COVID-19 cases with data available, 10.9% of people were reported to have diabetes, compared with 9.2% with chronic lung disease and 9.0% with cardiovascular disease. By comparison, the 2018 diabetes rate among all U.S. adults was 10.1%, the 2017 cardiovascular disease rate (not including people with just high blood pressure) was 10.6%, and the 2018 combined rate of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in adults and asthma among all ages was 13.8%
Making sense of the numbers
All of this data was reported to the CDC by states or territories using a standardized form created to keep track of COVID-19 cases, which includes questions about preexisting conditions. Health authorities can answer “yes,” “no,” or “unknown” to questions about whether a COVID-19 patient has diabetes, chronic lung disease, cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney disease, chronic liver disease, an immunocompromised status, a neurologic or neurodevelopmental disorder, intellectual disability, or pregnancy, is a current or former smoker, or has another chronic condition. Forms were submitted for 74,439 patients, representing 60.7% of all cases.
The CDC cautions that all of this data is preliminary and based on incomplete reports, and that severe cases of COVID-19 are most likely overrepresented. On a separate note, the report states, “It is not yet known whether the severity or level of control of underlying health conditions affects the risk for severe disease associated with COVID-19.” It may be a long time before there is enough data to know whether having better blood glucose control, for example, reduces the risk of severe illness among people with diabetes who develop COVID-19.
Still, the report emphasizes that people with preexisting conditions like diabetes should take steps to prevent COVID-19 by maintaining social distance from others, staying home and avoiding crowds, washing hands frequently, cleaning and disinfecting commonly touched surfaces, and avoiding contact with anyone who is feeling sick. It’s also recommended to keep a 30-day supply of all medications and a 2-week supply of food and other necessary household items, in case you get sick and have to stay at home.
Want to learn more about coronavirus and diabetes? Read “Coronavirus and Diabetes: What You Need to Know,” “Healthy Eating During Hard Times” and “Avoiding Coronavirus With Diabetes: Stock Up and Stay Home, CDC Says.”