High pre-infection blood sugar levels have been linked to a greater risk of severe COVID-19 cases, even in non-diabetics, according to a new study.
The research, from the Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT), Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Israeli health fund Meuhedet, and Hadassah Medical Center, shows that even pre-diabetic patients with high blood sugar levels after fasting, are more likely to develop serious symptoms after catching COVID-19.
The standard blood sugar level for an adult is 70-100 mg/dL, after having fasted at least eight hours. In patients diagnosed with diabetes, the highest risk (1 in 4 patients) of contracting severe COVID-19 was found in patients with low sugar values — below 80 mg/dl. The lowest risk (1 in 12) was found in patients with sugar values of 106-125 mg/dl.
For patients with no diagnosis of diabetes, the higher the sugar values, the greater the risk of severe COVID-19.
Patients with sugar values while fasting of 105-125 mg/dl were 1.5 times more at risk of developing severe COVID-19 than patients with sugar values less than 105. While patients with sugar values of 125-140 mg/dl were twice as likely to develop COVID-19 complications than patients with sugar values less than 105.
“The aim of the study was to locate risk factors for COVID-19 severe morbidity which could be handled in advance, so we could raise the awareness of those factors among the general public,” said Dr. Michal Shauly-Aharonov of the Department of Industrial and Management Engineering at JCT and Hebrew University’s School of Public Health.
The study, which was first published in the Plos One journal, examined all members of health fund Meuhedet over age 18, including 37,121 subjects (16.7 percent of the total group) who registered a positive COVID-19 PCR test between March and October 2020. Additionally, 707 of subjects were seriously ill (1.9 percent), 244 died (34.5 percent), 188 were admitted to the ICU (26.5 percent), and 538 were hospitalized for 10 days or more (76 percent).
According to Dr. Orit Bernholtz-Gulchin, head of the Meuhedet regional diabetes clinic, the findings mean that the medical community’s emphasis “should be placed on preventing hypoglycemia [a condition in which blood sugar level drops radically from normative levels] in populations found to be at risk of severe COVID-19 comorbidity.”
The researchers also recommended paying special attention to patients with no diagnosis of diabetes who show abnormal sugar levels during fasting or who show elevated HbA1C hemoglobin levels, as well as low sugar-value diabetics, who are also at increased risk of COVID-19 complications.
“The study shows very strongly how much can be learned from quality and continuous medical recording, such as the one we have in the Israeli healthcare system,” said professor Ora Paltiel of Hebrew University’s School of Public Health.
Edited by Judith Isacoff and Bryan Wilkes