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Why Diabetes May Cause More Severe COVID-19 Illness


People with diabetes are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19. The exact reasons are still under investigation, but experts believe it has to do with chronic inflammation.

Dr. Susan Hoover is an infectious disease specialist with Sanford Health. She says people with diabetes have higher levels of chemicals that activate the immune system and can cause inflammation.

“Some of those chemicals are known to be very abnormal in people with bad COVID-19 disease. So, there is some kind of immune response the body is making that’s not necessarily appropriate for what is going on, and can sometimes actually rather than defend our bodies and protect our bodies, actually make us sicker.”

Dr. Hoover says this is why people with diabetes are at higher risk for seasonal flu and other infections.

“Antibodies, our t-cells and b-cells that protect us from infection, our neutrophils which are white blood cells that scoop up infectious organisms—all tend not to work as well in people with diabetes, especially uncontrolled diabetes.”

Dr. Hoover says people with diabetes should work with their doctors to manage their symptoms. She says everyone should get a flu shot…wear a mask…and take other precautions against spreading COVID-19.

-Contact SDPB reporter Jackie Hendry by email.