Covid infections are once again on the rise in the United States, and the disease remains a special concern for people with diabetes. Here’s what you should know:
Covid Is Back on the Rise
“All signs point to a rise in Covid,” reported NBC News on September 5. The latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show hospitalizations are at their highest level since last March, and analyses of wastewater support that the coronavirus is surging back this season.
Thankfully, we are still nowhere close to the peak of previous waves. While there were about 17,000 Covid hospital admissions in the final week of August, there were nearly 10 times as many during the worst week on record, which occurred in January 2022.
Covid seems less dangerous than it used to be, but it remains a real public health concern. During the summer, nearly 500 patients died per week of COVID-19, a number that experts fear may rise in the coming months.
What to Know About Eris, the New Major Covid Variant
A new Covid variant, nicknamed “Eris,” is now dominant. Eris, officially denoted EG.5, is an offshoot of the omicron variant. Early data suggests that it may be especially transmissible, which may be behind the recent uptick in Covid hospitalizations. The CDC expects Eris to continue to make up a greater share of the total Covid infections in the United States.
Speaking to our partner website Everyday Health, Dean Winslow, MD, an infectious-disease specialist at Stanford University, said that “based on the data that I have seen, [Eris] is less virulent than earlier variants like delta.” It seems to be that as it continues to mutate, the coronavirus is getting more infectious, but less dangerous.
The coronavirus that causes Covid continues to evolve and change rapidly. There are now dozens of distinct variants being tracked by the CDC. One variant that’s been in the news lately is BA.2.86, a strain with an unusually large number of mutations that has been dubbed “Pirola.” Experts were initially concerned that Pirola might neutralize vaccine- or illness-induced immunity, but initial laboratory study seems to suggest that there’s little reason to worry.
New Covid Boosters Coming Soon
A new round of Covid vaccine boosters is set for approval, and experts speculate that it could be available as soon as the week of Monday, September 11.
The new boosters were designed to target variant XBB.1.5, which was until recently the dominant strain of Covid. In late May, XBB.1.5 was responsible for about 50 percent of the nation’s Covid infections, but it has waned considerably since then. In the latest data, only about 12 percent of Covid cases were caused by XBB.1.5, fewer than Eris.
Nevertheless, the new booster should work extremely well against Eric, which is related to XBB.1.5. The majority of Covid infections in America today have been caused by variants in the XBB lineage, and experts expect the booster to be very effective.
One vaccine maker, Moderna, has also stated that its new booster will work well against Pirola, the highly mutated variant that has only gained a toehold in America thus far.
What if you don’t have access to the newest booster yet? Should you get the older booster, or wait for the new edition? Our partner Everyday Health looked at exactly this question and concluded that most people are probably better off waiting for the newest booster, which will be more effective against the strains of Covid currently circulating. People who are especially vulnerable, however, would be wise to consult with their physicians first.
Should Everyone Get a New Covid Booster Shot?
It’s unclear whether or not the new boosters will be recommended to everyone. A very high percentage of Americans have already had at least one Covid vaccine, some natural immunity from a previous infection, or both. It is possible that these factors provide enough protection for people who are otherwise in good health. According to KFF Health News, there is no expert consensus on the issue.
The CDC is set to vote on the question on September 12. The organization will almost certainly recommend that vulnerable people (and those who frequently come in contact with them) should get the latest booster.
Are People with Diabetes Especially Vulnerable to Covid?
It has been known since the earliest days of the pandemic that people with diabetes were suffering greater rates of hospitalization and death. The disease can trigger acute hyperglycemia, and hospitals began to monitor blood sugar levels and administer insulin to even patients without diabetes.
Soon, we learned something even stranger — that Covid seemed to be causing huge numbers of people to develop diabetes, both types 1 and 2.
It could be because the pancreas is one of the front lines in the body’s battle against Covid. The coronavirus’ primary mode of attack is through the body’s ACE2 receptors, proteins that are found in great concentration on the pancreatic islet cells, which house the cells that produce insulin. The failure of those cells is characteristic of both major types of diabetes.
Certain other medical conditions — including obesity, heart disease, and cancer — are also considered especially vulnerable to Covid, according to the CDC. Adults over the age of 65 “are at the highest risk of getting very sick.”
With that said, patients under 65 with good blood sugar management are not necessarily at a highly elevated risk. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) has stated that “If diabetes is well-managed, the risk of getting severely sick from COVID-19 is about the same as the general population.” While people with diabetes are generally considered to be immunocompromised, those who maintain healthy glycemic management (and who are otherwise healthy) probably have a normal immune response.
Flu Shots for People With Diabetes
The coronavirus will certainly not be the only dangerous virus floating around this autumn and winter.
The flu can also be especially hard on people with diabetes. Most healthy adults can fight off a bout with the flu without too much serious risk, even if it means a few uncomfortable days. But the combination of diabetes with the flu is no joke — the odds of real danger are highly elevated. People with diabetes are three times more likely to end up in the hospital, and four times more likely to be admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU).
Getting ill with diabetes can be a real ordeal. Even when mild, infections like the flu and Covid can cause your blood sugar to skyrocket. You should have a sick day plan in place in case your illness gets worse — especially if it causes vomiting, diarrhea, or severe dehydration.
Public health authorities consistently urge all Americans with diabetes to get a flu shot annually. A recent CDC report showed that the flu vaccine is working well in South America during their winter, a sign that it is likely to be effective here in the Northern Hemisphere.
You can safely get a Covid booster and flu vaccine at the same time.