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How diabetics could get an early notice of a COVID-19 infection

HOUSTON – More than 10% of Texans have diabetes, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. Now, there’s a new use for all of those patients who wear a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). A CGM is a device that’s replaced traditional finger pricks among people with diabetes.

One healthcare giant says people who wear them should pay special attention to any abnormalities in their daily readings because it might be a good tool for catching a COVID-19 infection early.

Jon Alger wears a CGM. He's had diabetes for 15 years and knows that put him at risk for complications from coronavirus, which he had in March.

“I had the fatigue, I had no appetite, had a headache, my fever was up and down all over the place. It was back when they really didn’t know what the symptoms were and my doctor was telling me I had the flu,” Alger said.

How his CGM and smartwatch saved him

The CGMs can work together with smart devices to alert diabetic patients when blood sugar is too high or too low.

CGMs are worn for ten days straight. They can go in the shower, pool, gym - anywhere you go. It’s keeping patients informed way more frequently than traditional finger pricks that relied on people remembering to prick themselves about five times a day.

Now, in a program with United Healthcare called Level2, they have a team receiving these alerts and say they've been able to predict infections (like coronavirus) based on volatile readings.

“Anytime do you have diabetes and you’re faced with any type of infection, not just COVID-19, usually your blood glucose control is impacted no matter how well you’re behaving in what you eat and your exercise as well,” said Dr. Amy Meister with Level 2. “Sudden changes in blood sugar control may point to a potential COVID infection… and we know of those that have died from COVID-19, 40% had diabetes. We also know that if your blood sugar is poorly controlled, you’re 12 times more likely to have a bad outcome when faced with COVID-19.”

Spotting infection before diagnosis

United Healthcare says through the program, their team can spot health declining up to ten days in advance.

This could be an important key to catching coronavirus early, and in this group of people with diabetes, that’s particularly important.

Nutrition alerts

When Alger was sick in bed for two weeks with coronavirus, he says his monitor was the only thing motivating him to eat and keep his nutrition up in order to fight the virus.

“I did not want to eat anything… I seriously lost 15 pounds, because I ate nothing. I would start to eat you know a peach or something and I’d eat about a quarter to half of it and I just, that was all I could do and I just put it back in the fridge. So, I really relied on the monitor too, it has a little setting on it when it starts to get low it will tell you if you’re starting to head down too low and when it went off I noticed it getting down I would just go and force myself to eat something,” he said.