COVID-19 (coronavirus)

Information for people living with diabetes about COVID-19 (coronavirus)

UPDATED 20 March 2020

Currently there is a great deal of information about the novel coronavirus—named COVID-19, naturally this is concerning for our diabetes community, so we have prepared the following to help you. The information is sourced from the Department of Health, NDSS and the World Health Organisation.

What is COVID-19 (coronavirus)

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause respiratory infections. These can range from the common cold to more serious diseases.

COVID-19 is the disease caused by a new coronavirus. It was first reported in December 2019 in Wuhan City in China.

Other coronaviruses include Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

How is COVID-19 spread?

People can catch COVID-19 from others who have the virus. The disease can spread from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth which are spread when a person with COVID-19 coughs or sneezes. These droplets land on objects and surfaces around the person. Other people then catch COVID-19 by touching these objects or surfaces, then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. People can also catch COVID-19 if they breathe in droplets from a person with COVID-19 who coughs or sneezes droplets. This is why it is important to stay more than 1.5 meters away from a person who is sick.

The risk of catching COVID-19 from someone with no symptoms at all is very low. Many people who do catch COVID-19 experience only mild symptoms. This is particularly true at the early stages of the disease. It is therefore possible to catch COVID-19 from someone who has, for example, just a mild cough and does not feel ill.

What are the symptoms

People with coronavirus may experience:

  • Fever
  • Coughing
  • Sore throat
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath.

Symptoms may range from a mild illness to pneumonia.

If you are sick and think you have symptoms of COVID-19, seek medical attention. If you want to talk to someone about your symptoms first, call the Coronavirus Health Information Line for advice. The line operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week: 1800 020 080. If you have serious symptoms such as difficulty breathing, call 000 for urgent medical help.

How to get help

To seek medical help from a doctor or hospital, call ahead of time to book an appointment.

You will be asked to take precautions when you attend for treatment. Follow the instructions you are given.

If you have a mask, wear it to protect others. Stay at least 1.5 metres away from other people. Cover your coughs or sneezes with your elbow.

Tell the doctor about:

  • your symptoms
  • any travel history
  • any recent contact with someone who has COVID-19

How do you know if have COVID-19?

Your doctor will tell you if you should be tested. They will arrange for the test.

You will only be tested if your doctor decides you meet the criteria:

  • You have returned from overseas in the past 14 days and you develop respiratory illness with or without fever
  • You have been in close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case in the past 14 days and you develop respiratory illness with or without fever
  • You have severe community-acquired pneumonia and there is no clear cause
  • You are a healthcare worker who works directly with patients and you have a respiratory illness and a fever

After testing

It may take a few days for the test results to come back.

If you have serious symptoms you will be kept in hospital and isolated from other patients to prevent the virus spreading.

If your doctor says you are well enough to go home while you wait for your test results, you should:

  • self-isolate at home and do not attend work or school
  • protect yourself and others

How do you protect yourself?

There is no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. To prevent the spread of viruses, practise good hygiene and social distancing.

Good hygiene includes:

  • covering your coughs and sneezes with your elbow or a tissue
  • disposing of tissues properly
  • washing your hands often with soap and water, including before and after eating and after going to the toilet
  • using alcohol-based hand sanitisers
  • cleaning and disinfecting surfaces
  • if you are sick, avoiding contact with others and staying more than 1.5 metres away from people
  • cleaning and sanitising frequently used objects such as mobiles, keys and wallets

Social distancing includes:

  • staying at home when you are unwell
  • avoiding large public gatherings if they’re not essential
  • keeping a distance of 1.5 metres between you and other people whenever possible
  • minimising physical contact, especially with people at higher risk such as older people and people with existing health conditions
  • avoid handshaking and physical greetings

Who is most at risk?

In Australia, the people most at risk of getting the virus are those who have :

  • recently been in a high risk country or region (mainland China, Iran, Italy or Korea)
  • been in close contact with someone who has a confirmed case of COVID-19

Based on what we know about coronaviruses, those most at risk of serious infection are:

  • people with compromised immune systems (such as people who have cancer)
  • elderly people
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples (as they have higher rates of chronic illness)
  • people with chronic medical conditions
  • people in group residential settings
  • people in detention facilities

There is no evidence that people living with diabetes are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19, however if they do then symptoms and complications may be more severe. Some experts suggest that if a person with type 1 diabetes contracts COVID-19, they are not necessarily at higher risk of developing serious complications from the disease. People at greatest risk are those who have another chronic condition, or additional health problems (such as a compromised immune system, heart disease or renal failure). People with type 2 diabetes are often over 65 years of age, and are living with another chronic condition which does place them at higher risk of developing serious complications. We will monitor this evidence and keep you updated as it becomes available globally.

When people with diabetes become sick, it can be more difficult to treat due to fluctuations in blood glucose levels and other complications. We encourage you to refer to the advice that applies during infections with other viruses. If you have type 1 diabetes and do become ill, with any virus, you must take special care of yourself and your type 1 diabetes (see below).

Sick days and diabetes

COVID-19 has many of the same symptoms as the flu. These symptoms can affect your blood glucose levels and that’s why now is a good time to review your diabetes sick day management plan.

It’s important to be prepared before you get sick – have a personalised sick day action plan and sick day management kit ready to use at the earliest sign of illness.

Make an appointment with your doctor, diabetes educator or another member of your diabetes healthcare team to help you prepare your plan.

For additional information:

We are here to support you

If you need support with your diabetes management during this time, please don’t hesitate to contact the NDSS Helpline on 1800 637 700 to speak to a health professional, or call Diabetes SA on 1300 198 204.

Want more information?

There is a large amount of information circulating about coronavirus. It is important that you seek updates and information from trusted sources.

We recommend the Australian Government’s Coronavirus Information Page. It is regularly updated with the latest information.

If you have questions about coronavirus please call the Australian Government’s Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080. The Helpline operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

If you are concerned with the availability of diabetes medicines please visit the Therapeutic Goods Administration website for the latest information.

You can also visit the NDSS website which is updated regularly.