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Diabetes the leading risk factor for Covid-19 deaths

The testing backlog in the Western Cape has decreased from more than 27,000 to just over 3,000 in two weeks. A new report has revealed those with diabetes are more likely to die from Covid-19.
The testing backlog in the Western Cape has decreased from more than 27,000 to just over 3,000 in two weeks. A new report has revealed those with diabetes are more likely to die from Covid-19.

People with diabetes are more likely to die from Covid-19 than any other high-risk group while those with HIV appear to be at less risk, the latest Covid-19 mortality data from the Western Cape has revealed.

The provincial health department said that, based on current data, it estimates that out of every 100 people within the public health-care sector who died from Covid-19, 52 had diabetes, followed by 19 with hypertension and 12 with HIV.

The department said on Friday that in the absence of data on important risk factors such as body mass index (BMI), most deaths could be attributed to the three leading comorbidities.

“We are reassured that the increased risk of poor Covid-19 outcomes for people with HIV is not significant and lower than what might have been expected, but people with HIV and TB need to be considered a risk group especially if they have other comorbidities,” said the department in a statement.

The latest findings aligned with the department's shift in testing strategy to prioritise those with underlying conditions.

“Recent findings by the Western Cape department of health on risk factors for dying from Covid-19 have confirmed a number of patient characteristics and comorbidities. This aligns with the department’s shift in testing strategy to prioritise persons most at risk for severe disease, which are diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, cancer treatment, TB, HIV with poor adherence to ARVs, and chronic lung diseases such as asthma, emphysema and chronic bronchitis.”

The latest data also showed that out of 927 deaths as of Thursday, most were in the Klipfontein subdistrict which recorded 163 deaths and 4,026 infections, followed by Khayelitsha that has registered 145 deaths and 4,326 cases.

The southern subdistrict, which covers the False Bay and Tygerberg regions, recorded 104 deaths each. Tygerberg has had the most Covid-19 cases at 5,051 while the southern subdistrict has had 3,442 cases.

The province has admitted 2,814 patients to its quarantine facilities since the start of the pandemic in March, with 538 currently admitted in its isolation and quarantine sites.

About 2,118 health-care workers have tested positive and 11 have died.

On the upside, the department said it is “heartened” by the dramatic reduction of the testing backlog, which has shrunk from more than 27,000 in the past two weeks to 3,737 this week. The National Health Laboratory Service prioritised the Western Cape after recent visits there by health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize and President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Health department head Keith Cloete said this reduction means that patients who are hospitalised will receive their test results on the same day.

Immediate availability of results will enable the province to detect positive cases as early as possible. “This in turn allows us to engage those who need to isolate and quarantine early, before the virus spreads further. Supporting our testing strategy is a key finding in a recent study which shows that individuals at an older age and diabetes were the factors most strongly associated with Covid-19 mortality, in keeping with studies from other settings,” the department said.

Premier Alan Winde said the province will continue to monitor the increased testing capacity “before making a decision on whether to adapt or change our testing strategy again”.

“Testing widely is an important tool in tracking, understanding and managing the pandemic. However, it is also vitally important that test results are received quickly, especially for health-care workers, those in hospitals and those vulnerable groups who are most at risk of serious illness,” he said.

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