'The difference in mortality is striking': Sask. doctor warns of COVID-19 risk in people with diabetes

A Saskatoon doctor is urging people with diabetes to get vaccinated for COVID-19.

Mike Prystajecky, a general internist at City Hospital, said the stats are shocking when it comes to COVID-19 and diabetes.

“In the general public, about three per cent of people who acquire COVID-19 will need to be admitted to hospital. If you’re diabetic, that’s about 17 per cent, so it’s a six-fold increase,” Dr. Prystajecky said.

“It is a bit of a surprise. The difference in mortality is striking.”

According to the Saskatchewan Health Authority, people with diabetes who catch COVID-19 are 5.3 times more likely to be hospitalized, 7.5 times more likely to end up in the ICU and 6.9 times more likely to die.

People with COVID-19 and diabetes tend to be older as well, according to the health authority. The average age of people who contract COVID-19 with diabetes is 57, compared to 31 without diabetes.

Prystajecky said other risk factors tend to accompany diabetes, including the higher age, obesity and cardiovascular disease.

“But even in studies where they controlled for those other risk factors, we see that diabetics are at an increased risk of dying and that likely relates to altered immune function,” he said.

He encouraged people with diabetes to be extra cautious, saying “prevention is the best medicine,” especially with the Delta variant.

“The tighter your control is the more likely you are to have a favourable outcome.”

A PARAMEDIC’S EXPERIENCE

Dennis Opekokew is a paramedic for the Athabasca Health Authority. He has diabetes and hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, and has been taking extra precaution throughout the pandemic.

Opekokew said while it’s been stressful, he can control his condition with medication, unlike people with uncontrolled diabetes or hypertension.

“Just having one of those makes it harder for the body to fight a virus coming in, which would be COVID. If you have two or more issues going on with your system, then it makes it all the more difficult to fight off the virus.”

As a frontline health care worker, Opekokew was able to quickly get his COVID-19 vaccine.

“It was a bit of a relief knowing I could still get COVID with the vaccine, but I won’t get it as serious. It made me feel better about it. I worry about catching it, contracting it all the time,” he said.

ADVICE FROM DIABETES CANADA

Diabetes Canada said there are several reasons why someone with diabetes is more likely to have a complicated case of COVID-19.

“COVID-19, like other viral infections, can cause immune and inflammatory responses in which the body essential attacks itself to try and get rid of the virus,” Amanda Sterczyk, manager of research and public policy, told CTV.

“People living with diabetes may already have some low-grade inflammation and higher blood sugar levels that can further worsen the inflammation. In addition, people with diabetes may have problems with blood vessels that can increase risk for blood clots.”

Like Prystajecky, Sterczyk said managing diabetes and practicing healthy habits, such as a proper diet and physical activity, will help your body fight COVID-19 if you contract it.

“It’s really important that people get vaccinated when they’re eligible, that they continue to follow public health guidelines,” Sterczyk said.

“Practicing good hand hygiene, which is really important, especially if you are testing your blood sugar or administering any sort of medication, you need to make sure you’ve washed your hands ahead of time.”

According to Diabetes Canada, many don’t even know they have the disease.

“There are almost 1.7 million Canadians who are living with type 2 diabetes and aren’t even aware of this,” Sterczyk said.

“If you have any family history of diabetes, if you’re over the age of 40, you should be getting tested every year.”