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Striking Vulnerability to COVID-19 Found in Diabetics

July 22, 2021 by Reece Nations
Student nurse Dario Gomez, center, disinfects a chair after administering the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to a patient at Providence Edwards Lifesciences vaccination site in Santa Ana, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

One of the more disturbing trends of the still ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is the susceptibility of diabetic Americans to the virus.

Researchers at The University of Texas at El Paso conducted a study that indicates unmanaged diabetes is a decisive element of COVID-19 severity and complications, particularly among Hispanic populations. The researchers analyzed medical records from 369 patients with COVID-19 admitted to the University Medical Center of El Paso and found that unmedicated diabetic patients typically experienced longer hospitalization periods and recovery times.

“Our study has significant impact in this region, which has a high Hispanic population and a greater risk for developing diabetes,” Sudip Bajpeyi, UTEP associate professor of Kinesiology and director of the Metabolic Nutrition and Exercise Research laboratory, said in a written statement. “Many Hispanics in this region are also undiagnosed and may not know their diabetes status. Engaging the community to learn about diabetes and the importance of managing blood glucose should be considered as a priority to manage and treat COVID-19 severity.”

Additionally, Black and Hispanic Americans are over 50% more likely to have diabetes than non-Hispanic White Americans, according to statistics published by the American Diabetes Association. Further, Hispanics are 2.4 times more likely to die of COVID-19 and around 40% of Americans who have died from the virus were diabetic.

Diabetes is one of the highest-risk ailments for patients suffering from COVID-19 because it can lead to increased overall health complications when left untreated, according to the study. About one in 10 people with diabetes who are hospitalized for COVID-19 die within a week, contributing to more COVID deaths than obesity, chronic lower respiratory diseases and sepsis.

“The burden of these rising diabetes rates falls disproportionately on low-income communities, historically underserved Americans, and people of color,” the ADA said in a written statement. “Diabetes prevalence today among minority groups is nearly twice as high as it is for White Americans.”

The ADA statement continued, “Much of this is because the social, economic, and environmental factors that put people at a higher risk for developing diabetes are especially pervasive in America’s communities of color… These trends are so prevalent that in the U.S. today, it is impossible to disentangle diabetes from larger systemic questions around health equity; we cannot have a holistic conversation about the causes and effects of one without discussing the other.”

A December 2020 survey conducted by Thrivable and the ADA found around 43% of diabetes patients delayed seeking routine medical care during the pandemic – typically because of financial constraints, health care disruptions, or fear of infection.

Life expectancy in the U.S. experienced the largest decline since World War II in 2020, falling by a year and a half, TWN previously reported. Racial disparities connected to the pandemic were underscored in the Centers for Disease Control report published on Wednesday.

“For months we have known that people with diabetes are at heightened risk during COVID,” Tracey Brown, CEO of the American Diabetes Association, said in a written statement. “Yet what this data shows is that the level of adversity facing our community from this crisis is at an even more critical point.”

Brown continued, “As many as 40% of the COVID fatalities — 120,000 Americans — have been people with diabetes, and more in our community may be at risk of the worst of the virus’ effects because so many are now unable to manage their diabetes effectively. As we approach the holiday season, we must be even more mindful that our community, which includes an outsized portion of people of color and those of lesser means, must be a priority for relief efforts, including prioritized access to the COVID vaccine.” 

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