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18 May 2020

Top professor calls for ‘calm and fact checking’ amid diabetes link to COVID-19

An obesity and endocrinology expert has urged healthcare professionals and the media not to “frighten” people with diabetes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Professor John Wilding, Professor of Medicine and Honorary Consultant Physician, Department of Cardiovascular and Metabolic Medicine at the Institute for Lifecourse and Medical Sciences at the University of Liverpool, is concerned about some of the stories based on newly published research, about diabetes as a coronavirus risk factor.

He said: “The data that I’ve seen that has come out of China and America does suggest there’s a higher mortality rate among those with diabetes who become infected with COVID-19. But we don’t know for sure whether that’s down to the diabetes or other comorbidities that are commonly associated with the condition. We also don’t know whether people with diabetes are more likely to be infected with coronavirus.

“There’s a lot of speculation at the moment. A newly published review article by some very highly regarded researchers has shown there does seem to be a higher risk of severe coronavirus complications in people with diabetes, and this is supported by a recent analysis of NHS data, suggesting those with poorly controlled diabetes are at higher risk of mortality from COVID-19,  but I think we, as healthcare professionals, have to be careful not to frighten people.”

Professor Wilding said he believes a lot of the current evidence is circumstantial, but it’s vital everyone keeps an “open mind”.

He added: “At times like this we need to be calm and look at the facts. There are some very sick people in hospital who have diabetes and COVID-19. But those numbers are relatively low in comparison to the general population of people who have diabetes.”

At the moment the general advice to people with diabetes is to eat well, exercise when they can, take medication correctly and check blood sugar levels regularly in a bid to stay as healthy as they possibly can, which Professor Wilding agrees with.

He said: “It’s really important people stay on top of their condition, but the message from the medical profession is ‘don’t be afraid to come to hospital’. My biggest fear is that people develop a foot ulcer or have a heart attack or stroke at home and are too scared to go to hospital for treatment because of COVID-19.

“To keep it in perspective, most people with diabetes haven’t had COVID and most of them hopefully won’t get it. We just have to await firm evidence before we start changing the advice to people with diabetes.”

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