New Evidence Points to A Link Between The COVID-19 Omicron Variant and Diabetes
No one who was there will ever forget the difficult months at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when hospital beds were full, healthcare workers stepped up as national heroes, and the lockdown driven by social distancing impacted every facet of our work and home lives.
For those living with diabetes, the dangers of the COVID-19 virus were (and still are) amplified. While those with diabetes were not at any greater risk of acquiring the virus during the pandemic, they were at greater risk of experiencing severe complications as a result of it. This risk was further heightened based on whether or not a person also experienced other diabetes-related complications, including cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, kidney problems, and high cholesterol.
Additionally, contracting the COVID-19 virus, or any other virus for that matter, can make it more difficult to manage blood sugar and increase the risk of experiencing dangerous conditions, such as diabetic ketoacidosis.
There is no question that those with diabetes face greater challenges with infections like COVID-19. However, new evidence published in a report by JAMA Network Open and featured online in a Time Magazine article, points to the fact that the virus might also contribute to the development of diabetes.
New Evidence about Omicron and Diabetes
One of the most challenging aspects of managing the COVID-19 outbreak from a national health perspective remains all the variants that have evolved since the dawn of the pandemic. Fortunately, these variants seem to lead to less severe reactions than the original strain, however, a new study about the Omicron variant reveals a possible link to the onset of diabetes.
According to a study of nearly 24,000 patients by researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, the rate of newly diagnosed diabetes patients spiked within the 90-day period in which the Omicron variant was dominant in the United States and around the world.
Omicron is considered a milder version of the COVID-19 virus, leading to far lower rates of hospitalization compared to the original virus and the Delta variant that soon followed. Omicron, however, remains a very contagious virus that began sweeping across the nation and around the world in 2021, with the vast majority of recent COVID-19 cases being traced to Omicron.
Add the increased instance in diabetes diagnoses during the period of Omicron dominance and it’s clear that we should be watching for the development of diabetes in people who are recovering from the virus.
What About COVID Vaccines?
The COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to reduce the risk of developing diabetes after contracting Omicron. In fact, throughout the Omicron timetable new diabetes diagnoses were a shocking three times as common among unvaccinated individuals who contracted the virus as they were in the pre-infection period.
Related complications such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and elevated levels of blood fats were also more likely to occur after contracting the virus among unvaccinated people.
Additionally, people who were vaccinated and contracted COVID, experienced about the same risk of developing diabetes post infection, while the risk for seeing related complications actually decreased – pointing to the fact that being vaccinated for COVID-19 can reduce the risk of developing diabetes and other related health problems. However, more research needs to be done to fully understand the relationship.
“As we move into the next phase of COVID, we still need to research the impact of multiple infections, multiple vaccinations, and how vaccinations mixed with infections affect risk,” stated Alan Kwan, a Cedars-Sinai cardiologist who helped author the report.
What Can You Do?
If you’re already living with diabetes, the truth is this new report isn’t going to change much for you. However, it is an important reminder to get your COVID vaccines to lower your risk of a severe reaction should you contract the Omicron variant or any others that might come down the road.
If you haven’t been diagnosed with diabetes, particularly if you have added risk factors such as being overweight and having high blood pressure, you should also get your COVID-19 vaccines. They just might help you avoid developing diabetes should you become infected.
Managing Your Diabetes
If you are among the more than 35 million Americans living with diabetes, keeping your blood sugar under control, and properly managing your diabetes is key to weathering any infection - COVID, the flu, even just a common cold.
Blood sugar that is poorly managed can weaken the immune system making reactions to infections far more severe than they would be otherwise. Always test your blood sugar regularly and adhere to your doctor-prescribed medication program.
If you are experiencing frequent highs or lows, talk to your doctor about ways to gain better control, whether that’s by switching to continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) system for testing, adjusting your medication regimen, or making some healthy lifestyle changes.
Simply put, the greater control you have over your diabetes, the less likely you are to experience dangerous reactions to COVID or any other infection.