Half of Those With Type 1 Diabetes and COVID-19 Manage at Home

Miriam E. Tucker

June 11, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

New preliminary data from the T1D Exchange suggest that although hyperglycemia and diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) are common in people with type 1 diabetes who develop COVID-19, many are still able to manage the illness at home and overall mortality is relatively low.   

The new findings — the first US data on individuals with type 1 diabetes and COVID-19 — were published online June 5 in Diabetes Care by Osagie A. Ebekozien, MD, vice president, quality improvement and population health at the T1D Exchange, and colleagues.

Two UK studies are the only prior ones to previously examine the topic.

The newly published study includes data as of May 5 on 64 individuals from a total of 64 US sites, including 15 T1D Exchange member clinics and an additional 49 endocrinology clinics from around the country. Since the paper was submitted, there are now 220 patients from 68 sites. Another publication with a more detailed analysis of risk factors and adjustment for confounders is planned for later this year.

Some of the findings from the preliminary data have shifted, but many aspects remain consistent, Ebekozien told Medscape Medical News.

"One thing still very true, even with the unpublished findings, is the influence of A1c and glycemic management...With higher A1c levels, we're seeing more COVID-19 hospitalizations and worse outcomes," he said.

And as has been generally reported for COVID-19, high body mass index was a major risk factor in the preliminary dataset — and remains so.

There were two deaths in the preliminary report, both individuals with comorbidities in addition to type 1 diabetes, Ebekozien said. There have been a few more deaths in the larger dataset, but the mortality rate remains relatively low.

Interestingly, females predominate in both cohorts. That may be a reporting phenomenon, another factor that is being analyzed. 

Hyperglycemia Remains a Major Risk Factor

The study is specifically being conducted by the T1D Exchange's Quality Improvement Collaborative, which Ebekozienheads.

Data were obtained for 33 patients with type 1 diabetes who tested positive for COVID-19, and another 31 who were classified as "COVID-19–like" because they had symptoms consistent with COVID-19, as identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but hadn't been tested for the virus.

For all 64 patients, the mean age was 20.9 years and two thirds (65.6%) were aged 18 or younger. A higher proportion of the COVID-19–like patients were pediatric than the confirmed cases. The larger dataset includes more adult patients, Ebekozien told Medscape Medical News.

Overall, 60.9% of patients were female. Nearly half were white, a quarter Hispanic, and 18.8% black. More confirmed COVID-19 cases were black compared with suspected cases (30.3% vs 6.5%).

Median A1c for the overall group (including suspected COVID-19 cases) was 8.0%, but it was 8.5% among confirmed cases. Overall, six patients (9.8%) presented with new-onset type 1 diabetes after they developed COVID-19.

Hyperglycemia was present in half (32) of patients overall. DKA occurred in 19 people (30.2%), 15 of the confirmed COVID-19 cases (45.5%) versus just 4 (13.3%) of the COVID-19–like cases. Nausea was reported in 30.2% of patients overall.

Other symptoms were typical of COVID-19, including fever (41.3%), dry cough (38.1%), and shortness of breath (27.0%). Loss of taste and smell was less common, at just 9.5% overall.

Obesity was present in 39.7% of patients overall, with similar proportions in the confirmed and suspected COVID-19 groups. Hypertension and/or cardiovascular disease were present in 14.3% of patients overall, and the rate was similar between the two subgroups.

One of the two patients who died was a 79-year-old man who had hypertension and a prior stroke in addition to type 1 diabetes. The other was a 19-year-old woman with a history of asthma who developed a pulmonary embolism during the onset of COVID-19. Neither had DKA.

Even in Type 1 Diabetes, COVID-19 Can Be Managed at Home

Overall, 34.9% of patients were able to manage COVID-19 entirely at home, with 27.3% of the confirmed and 43.3% of the suspected cases able to do so.

At the other extreme, 22.2% of patients overall were admitted to the intensive care unit; 30.3% of the confirmed versus 13.3% of suspected cases.

Including the small proportion of patients sent home after being seen in emergency or urgent care, overall roughly half were not admitted to hospital.

"Interestingly, even in this preliminary study, half were managed at home via telemedicine with an endocrinologist and infectious disease specialist...I think it continues to be a case-by-case clinical decision between the patient and their provider," Ebekozien said.

"But, we're seeing a good number of patients who are managed at home and the symptoms resolve in a week or two, and the illness runs its course, and they don't have to even be seen," he added.  

The research team is also collecting data on barriers to remote care, including challenges with telemedicine and how front-line providers are navigating these.

"Those are all things that our future paper will be able to shed more light on," he explained. 

Endocrinologists around the country are invited to report cases of COVID-19 in patients with type 1 diabetes to the T1D Exchange, by emailing QI@T1Dexchange.org.

And in fact, Ebekozien also requested that clinicians with a large type 1 diabetes population also report if they've had no COVID-19 cases.

"Even if they haven't had a case, that's very useful information for us to know. One of the things we want to calculate down the line is the incidence ratio. Not all participating sites have had a case."

Endocrinologists from all the participating sites have formed a dedicated community that meets regularly via webinars to share information, he noted. "It's been a very selfless effort to work collaboratively as a community to quickly answer critical questions."

The Helmsley Charitable Trust funds the T1D Exchange Quality Improvement Collaborative. The T1D Exchange received financial support for this study from Abbott Diabetes, Dexcom, JDRF, Insulet Corporation, Lilly, Medtronic, and Tandem Diabetes Care. No other relevant financial relationships were reported.

Diabetes Care. Published online June 5, 2020. Abstract

For more diabetes and endocrinology news, follow us on Twitter and Facebook.


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.