People with type 2 diabetes are reported to be twice as likely as other people to die from COVID-19. Those with type 1 diabetes are said to have triple the risk. These figures are based on a study of the population in England, which looked at the characteristics of those who died from COVID-19.

Large-scale studies such as this help us to understand which groups may be more severely affected by COVID-19. As for why people with diabetes might be more severely affected, we don’t yet know. Part (but not all) of the reason may relate to people with type 2 diabetes being more likely to have other risk factors, such as being older. Age had a much larger impact on risk than diabetes of either type.

While the numbers may seem scary, doctors have reassured people with diabetes that they still have a very low risk of dying from COVID-19.

Where did the story come from?

News that people with diabetes are at raised risk of death from COVID-19 has been circulating for a while. Recently, news reports focused on research from NHS England, which published two studies on the topic on 19 May.

What is the basis for the claim?

The first study looked at all deaths from COVID-19 that occurred in hospitals in England, from 1st March to 11th May 2020. During this period, 23,804 people died from the infection, about a third of whom (31.3%) had type 2 diabetes and 1.5% had type 1 diabetes.

The researchers used data on the over 61 million people registered with a General Practitioner in England to look at how common such deaths were in those with or without diabetes.

They found that about 261 in every 100,000 people with type 2 diabetes died in hospital with COVID-19 in the 72 day period, and the figure was about 138 in every 100,000 people with type 1 diabetes. These figures were higher than the rate of about 39 per 100,000 COVID-19 deaths in hospital for the remainder of the general population.

After accounting factors which could influence results like age, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic deprivation and existing cardiovascular disease, people with type 1 diabetes were almost three times as likely to have died from COVID-19 in hospitals, compared to people without diabetes. People with type 2 diabetes were almost twice as likely. However, age had a far greater impact on the risk of dying from COVID-19 in hospital than diabetes. There was a 700-fold difference in risk for people under the age of 40 compared with those over 80.

So, even though the risk of death is raised for people with diabetes, this risk is still very low, particularly for young people.

The second study looked at 3,154,300 adults with diabetes registered with a General Practitioner in England. Up to 1st May 9,795 (0.3%) had died and had COVID-19 mentioned on their death certificate. People with poorly-controlled diabetes (as indicated by high HbA1C blood sugar levels) were up to twice as less likely to die from COVID-19 than people with diabetes whose blood sugar levels were well-controlled. Body mass index was also found to affect the chances of dying of COVID-19; people who had diabetes and were underweight or obese being more likely to die.

What do trusted sources say?

The charity Diabetes UK said: “Although this new data has provided us with a lot more detail about the potential risks of coronavirus infection for people with diabetes, it is important to recognise that the risk of death from coronavirus remains very low for people with and without diabetes and that it will continue to decrease as the number of cases fall.”

The charity added: “The most important thing anyone with diabetes can do is try their best to manage their condition carefully, keep their blood sugar in range as much as possible, and follow social distancing rules.”

The World Health Organization include diabetes as one of the existing medical conditions, alongside increased age, that may make someone more vulnerable to severe COVID infection.

Citation

  1. Valabjhi J et al. Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes and COVID-19 related mortality in England: a whole population study. Published 20 May 2020 https://www.england.nhs.uk/publication/type-1-and-type-2-diabetes-and-covid-19-related-mortality-in-england/ (Accessed 26 May 2020)
  2. Valabjhi J et al. Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes and COVID-19 related mortality in England: a cohort study in people with diabetes. Published 20 May 2020 https://www.england.nhs.uk/publication/type-1-and-type-2-diabetes-and-covid-19-related-mortality-in-england/ (Accessed 26 May 2020)

 

Reading list

  1. Diabetes UK: Latest statistics on coronavirus deaths in people with diabetes. https://www.diabetes.org.uk/about_us/news/coronavirus-statistics (Accessed 26 May 2020)
  2. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public