UTEP study finds Hispanics with unmanaged diabetes at greater risk for COVID-19 complications; White House urges vaccines as Delta variant spreads

El Paso News

FILE – In this April 20, 2020, file photo, resident physician Leslie Bottrell stands outside a room at an Intensive Care Unit as a nurse suctions the lungs of a COVID-19 patient at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Yonkers, N.Y. A U.S. government report says death rates are 12 times higher for coronavirus patients with chronic illnesses than for others who become infected. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report Monday, June 15 highlights the dangers posed by these conditions. They include heart disease, diabetes and chronic lung ailments, such as asthma or emphysema. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — The COVID-19 Delta variant is causing global concern as the World Health Organization (WHO) reports it has spread to at least 85 countries since it was first identified last fall. 

The Delta variant made up of 99% of COVID-19 cases in the United Kingdom by mid-June. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says it accounts for more than 25% of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and has been found in all 50 states including the District of Columbia. 

Delta presently accounts for 40% of cases in the U.S, CNN reports.

Health officials are urging people to beware of the heightened transmissibility of the Delta variant because it has a cluster of mutations that allow for easier cell infiltration and infection. 

“The Delta variant has been shown to be more transmissible — more contagious than the previous variants,” Dr. Rachel Levine, Assistant Secretary of Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services tells KTSM 9 News. 

The European Center for Disease Control reports that Delta is roughly 40-60% more transmissible than the Alpha variant, meaning Delta is about twice as contagious.

People who are not vaccinated are extremely likely to contract the Delta variant.

Moderna released data on Tuesday that reports that vaccinated people are able to neutralize Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta variants.

“Our safe and effective vaccines do protect against the Delta variant,” says Levine, noting that lab studies of the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johson & Johnson vaccines have been proven effective. 

People with chronic illnesses are especially susceptible to COVID-19 complications of all variants. 

“Individuals with chronic illnesses have borne the brunt of this infection and have had more severe cases of COVID-19, more hospitalizations, and tragically more deaths,” says Levine. 

A multidisciplinary study led by researchers at UTEP found that unmanaged diabetes in Hispanic populations — like El Paso — is a key factor that determines COVID-19 severity and complications. 

The retrospective study was led by Sudip Bajpeyi, Ph.D., UTEP associate professor of kinesiology and director of the Metabolic Nutrition and Exercise Research (MiNER) laboratory. Ali Mossayebi, a graduate kinesiology student at UTEP, presented the study’s findings Friday, June 25, 2021, at the virtual 81st Scientific Sessions of the American Diabetes Association (ADA).

“Our study has significant impact in this region, which has a high Hispanic population and a greater risk for developing diabetes,” Bajpeyi said. “Many Hispanics in this region are also undiagnosed and may not know their diabetes status. Engaging the community to learn about diabetes and the importance of managing blood glucose should be considered as a priority to manage and treat COVID-19 severity.”

The researchers examined medical records from 369 patients at University Medical Center diagnosed with COVID-19 to assess the consequences of unmanaged diabetes in Hispanic populations.

Hispanics are 2.4 times more likely to die of COVID-19 and 50% more likely to have diabetes than white Americans. 

The study’s researchers found that COVID-19 patients with untreated diabetes were at a significantly greater severity of COVID-19 based on a quick sepsis-related organ failure assessment (qSOFA), as well as length of hospitalization compared to COVID-19 patients with diabetes that is managed.

Bajpeyi says the study underscores the need to assess, monitor, and manage blood glucose levels in patients hospitalized with COVID-19 once first admitted — especially for vulnerable populations with comorbid diseases. 

One in 10 people with diabetes who are hospitalized with COVID-19 die within a week, making vaccinations for people at high-risk all the more urgent.

“We understand that there are still some people who are vaccine hesitant,” says Levine, “but we want to continue to get the word out about the safety of the vaccines, the effectiveness of the vaccines, and the importance of the vaccines.”

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