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Behind the data linking COVID-19 with diabetes

Published: (Updated: ) in Australian News by .

Cardiac disease and diabetes are among the top conditions present in patients presenting to ICU or dying from COVID-19, the latest data from Department of Health has revealed.

Diabetes and cardiac disease are among the top conditions present in patients presenting to ICU or dying from COVID-19, the latest data from Department of Health has revealed.

There is a growing global body of evidence that links various comorbidities to a higher risk of severe COVID-19 health issues.

In May, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) released a list of comorbidities linked to poorer COVID-19 outcomes, including hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease and cerebrovascular disease.

READ MORE: Follow our live blog for updates and breaking news on COVID-19

In Australian hospitalised patients, the most prevalent comorbidity was cardiac disease (35 per cent).

This compares to a similar rate among hospitalised cases in the UK (30.9 per cent).

Diabetes was also common across both levels of hospitalisation and among those who died while in hospital (45 per cent).

Diabetes was present in 123 admissions to ICU and 22 deaths.

This is closely followed by obesity, present in 100 ICU patients and 14 deaths.

"What this shows and indeed what the data around the world has shown is unfortunately people with diabetes are much more over-represented at the severe end of the spectrum in regard to COVID infections," chief executive of Diabetes Australia, Greg Johnson, told

"People with diabetes are more likely to get a serious infection and require intensive care and indeed are over-represented in deaths.

"There is no big or strong evidence they are more at risk of contracting the virus but people do need to be extra vigilant because if they get it they are certainly more likely to get really sick and more likely to end up needing intensive care.

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"It is a concern, and that is why people with diabetes are in the high risk group and why we need to make sure people with diabetes are getting the necessary care they need to keep them safe."

Mr Johnson said there are a number of important considerations that should be taken into consideration when interpreting the numbers.

"That said, the data doesn't differentiate between types of diabetes," he said.

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"Secondly, there's a range of comorbidities that are reported on and the reality is people will have more than one.

"Thirdly, we don't have perfect information … this one is including 49 deaths and that's not all the deaths but is does provide an indication."

Mr Johnson said lockdown restrictions put in place as a result of the pandemic have made it increasingly difficult for people with diabetes to access the healthcare they need, particularly now given their vulnerability to the virus.

"We need to make sure that people with diabetes are connected to their healthcare team … because one of the side effects, if you like, of physical distancing and staying at home and working from home, a real serious side effect is people will be isolated from their support network," he said.

"They're not having the normal checks, they're not having their normal appointments with health professionals and many of the services they need are not there.

Health workers cross the road near Concord Repatriation General Hospital in Concord, NSW.

"That's a really serious problem because diabetes doesn't go away during COVID."

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Diabetes is also a regressive disease and is more common in elderly people, which Mr Johnson said is another important factor behind the data.

"It's clear from all of the data that the biggest concern has been the elderly and from a diabetes perspective, there's a lot of people in aged care homes with diabetes."

Regardless of the pandemic, Mr Johnson points out that diabetes is a significant problem for thousands of Australians and people should be cautious about only thinking of the disease in relation to coronavirus.

"If COVID wasn't here, and we didn't have a pandemic, then this year unfortunately diabetes would be responsible for 17,000 deaths in Australia," he said.

"So the number of deaths we're looking at in COVID are relatively low and from a diabetes perspective the much bigger problem is diabetes is a major, major contributor to serious complications and indeed to deaths in Australia on a regular basis."

Source: 9News

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