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Utahns with diabetes at greater risk for complications from COVID-19

By Aley Davis, KSL TV | Posted - Sep. 17, 2020 at 10:22 p.m.


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SALT LAKE CITY — Studies show the risk of death or complications related to COVID-19 are four times greater for those with diabetes. There are more than 150,000 Utahns who've been diagnosed with diabetes.

One West Jordan man is grateful his chronic illness was under control when he got COVID-19.

Tanner Martin, 23, loves sports, especially basketball. But this summer, he's been sidelined in a serious way. Martin caught the sickness caused by the novel coronavirus in early May.

"I just got really, really sick," he said. "I noticed I just had a really bad body ache, sore throat, kind of a runny nose."

He soon developed chills and displayed other classic symptoms, including pneumonia. "Struggling to breathe is pretty scary sometimes," he described.

Martin says the fatigue has been frustrating. "Just horribly low energy levels that lasted for months," he said.

He's also a Type 1 diabetic of 20 years and is used to monitoring his health.

Tanner Martin, 23, got COVID-19 this summer. He is also a Type 1 diabetic of 20 years. (Photo: KSL TV)

"For me, giving myself shots, testing my blood sugar and measuring everything I eat is just second nature at this point," he explained.

Dr. Chris Jones, medical director for diabetes care at Intermountain Healthcare, says while diabetics are not more likely to get COVID-19, they are at an increased risk for having complications from the virus.

"The sickness that happens with people that have diabetes is usually more severe than for people without diabetes," he explained. "There's definitely statistics that show increased risk of hospitalization, increased risk of ICU stay, and increased risk of death."

Jones also says elevated blood sugars make it harder for people with diabetes to fight off the infection. That's why he's urging diabetics to take care of their health before they get sick.

"If you've managed your sugar well, if things are pretty much in control, then your risk of having harm or complications from COVID is much less in comparison to someone who has their sugars that are higher and poor control," he explained. While it’s different for every person, he said it generally comes down to diet, exercise, and compliance with medication.

"Now is the time to make sure that our health is the best we can," Jones said.

"This time of pandemic makes it even more important for us to say, ‘What are those things that I should be doing that I'm not?'" he added.

Although Martin is still getting his energy back, he's grateful he was managing his health before he got sick. He believes it’s what kept him out of the hospital.

"I was lucky… it could have been much worse for me, for sure," he said. "Anybody can catch it. It's not fun… It's very real. It nearly put me in the hospital," he said.

Despite having diabetes, Martin is determined to live life to its fullest. "My goal is to live as long and healthy as I can and I think I'm on the right track to do that so far," he said.

Today Martin is encouraging others to take precautions seriously and wear a mask.

"There's a lot of things that are at stake for so many people. So just being courteous and respectful for your friends and your neighbors and your family is the key."

More Your Life Your Health:

"These people with diabetes are our friends and our neighbors. They're our colleagues and other employees at work… and we often don't know that they have diabetes or other risk factors that would make them more ill if they got sick," Jones said. "I would love to see people be considerate of others by following the guidelines that are being given."

Jones says those with diabetes should take normal precautions and follow the usual guidelines. "Social distancing, wearing your mask, washing your hands, being wise, being smart, and use your usual good precautions," he described.

He also encourages diabetics to have "sick day" plans prepared for the day when they get an infection and their sugars start to elevate.

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Aley Davis

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