COVID-19: the risks for people with diabetes

Here are answers to questions about the risks associated with COVID-19 for people living with diabetes. Note that COVID-19 is a new disease for which many aspects are still being studied.

Topics covered:

  • Risk for people living with diabetes
  • Diabetes management
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Pregnancy
  • Job

People living with diabetes are considered “at risk”. What does that mean ?

People with compromised immune systems, those 70 and over, and people living with a chronic disease, such as diabetes, are considered to be at risk.

The fact that you have diabetes does not increase your risk of contracting COVID-19. However, people with diabetes who get COVID-19 are at higher risk of developing serious symptoms and complications. The most common complications are pneumonia and acute respiratory distress. In very rare cases, COVID-19 can lead to death.

Why are people with diabetes more at risk of developing severe symptoms and complications?

Viral infections (COVID-19, influenza or other) can be more difficult to treat in people living with diabetes due to fluctuations in blood sugar, especially if it is often high.

Are the risks the same for everyone with diabetes?

No at all. Certain factors increase the risk of developing severe symptoms and complications of COVID-19:

  • Being old;
  • Having a body mass index (BMI) equal to or greater than 30;
  • Often having high blood sugar values;
  • Having complications related to diabetes (for example: kidney or heart problems);
  • Having other health problems (for example: high blood pressure, problems with the lungs or liver).

Thus, diabetes alone will not necessarily cause a person to develop severe symptoms and complications from COVID-19. To assess the risks, it is important to consider the state of health in general. Discuss with our healthcare team if needed.

What is the impact of COVID-19 on diabetes management?

Getting COVID-19 can greatly affect the management of diabetes, especially in people treated with insulin. Most of the time, this results in hyperglycemia. To better understand the impact of an acute illness on blood glucose levels and how to manage it properly, read our article on cold, flu and other infections or consult our tool: What should you do when you are ill and have type 2 diabetes.

If necessary, contact your pharmacist or doctor to find out if an adjustment to your medication is necessary. Some medications may also need to be temporarily stopped.

What about people living with type 1 diabetes?

Organizations such as The BETTER project and JDRF have gathered a wealth of information specific to people living with type 1 diabetes and COVID-19. Visit their websites for more information.

People living with type 1 diabetes who have health conditions that require a hospital visit but are concerned about going there due to the pandemic, are encouraged to read this document to be fully prepared.

Are children and teens with type 1 diabetes also more at risk?

Children and adolescents in general represent less than 1% of cases of people infected with COVID-19. They would also have more mild symptoms.

Because of their young age and, for the most part, the absence of complications, children and adolescents living with type 1 diabetes are unlikely to have COVID-19 causing severe symptoms of the complications.

For more information on COVID-19 and children age 0 to 17, visit the Government of Québec website.

What about pregnant women with diabetes or gestational diabetes?

Pregnancy and diabetes are two conditions that increase the risk of developing complications from COVID-19. The physiological changes that occur during pregnancy account for this increased risk for pregnant women.

Although studies have found no trace of the virus in the amniotic fluid, placenta or breast milk of infected pregnant women, it is still too early to rule out the possibility of obstetric complications due to a mother’s infection.

For now, the recommendations for pregnant women are the same as for the general public. Pregnant women with diabetes or gestational diabetes should pay particular attention to their blood glucose levels since high blood glucose increases the risk of infection.

For more information on the risks associated with COVID-19 for pregnant women, visit the Government of Québec website.

What about people with diabetes who work?

The Government of Québec has asked employers to let their employees work from home when possible. In the event that working from home is impossible, the employer must implement preventive measures. The CNESST has produced a «trousse d’outils» (french only) to support workplaces in implementing preventive measures to reduce the risks of contamination linked to COVID-19.

As to whether going to work is safe or not, it is impossible to give an answer that applies to all people living with diabetes since several factors must be considered: general health, type of job performed, level risk of contamination in the workplace, etc. A doctor’s opinion may be necessary.

Will people who voluntary stop working be compensated?

People living with diabetes may consider not going to work. For the moment, there are no government measures in place for people who decide to voluntarily leave their workplace for fear of becoming infected. However, people can try to find an arrangement with their employer to take advantage of the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). As for those with a medical certificate from their doctor, they may be eligible for EI sickness benefits. Eligibility is assessed on a case by case basis.

Pregnant women with diabetes or gestational diabetes may be eligible for the Pour une maternité sans danger program (information in French only).

We are closely monitoring the situation and will provide updates as needed.

For more information about COVID-19 and working, visit the CNESST website.

See also our COVID-19 update.