Diabetes weakens body's ability to fight coronavirus

In Singapore, at least two of those who died from the virus had a history of diabetes. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

Those with pre-existing illnesses such as diabetes ought to be more concerned about the coronavirus outbreak here, metabolic disease expert Yusuf Ali told The Straits Times on Thursday.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Health Amrin Amin had said in Parliament in February that each year, an estimated 19,000 people in Singapore are diagnosed with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes.

Assistant Professor Yusuf, from the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine at Nanyang Technological University, said people with such conditions have a weakened ability to protect themselves from the virus.

"The long-elevated blood glucose in diabetes weakens the immune response. This will affect the natural ability of the body to fight against the virus, making the management of the condition harder," he said.

Citing a recent study on cases of Covid-19 infection in China, he noted that among those who were infected with the disease, the death rate for diabetics was 7.3 per cent, compared with 2.3 per cent overall.

In Singapore, at least two of those who died from the virus had a history of diabetes.

Prof Yusuf said that as there is currently no treatment or vaccine for Covid-19, the disease is managed by alleviating symptoms and ensuring that one's body has the right nourishment to mount a good defence against it.

For the time being, he said, diabetics should spend time doing simple exercises at home, and maintain a high standard of hygiene by washing their hands with soap and water regularly, not touching their faces, and staying away from people who are coughing.

Those on medication should ensure that they have enough to last them for two to four weeks.

Finally, they need to manage their blood glucose levels well.

"Poor glycaemic control not only makes management of viral infections harder, but also lowers your immune bar, thus increasing the risk of such infections," he said.

Timothy Goh

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 11, 2020, with the headline Diabetes weakens body's ability to fight coronavirus. Subscribe