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Black people with type I diabetes who contract COVID-19 are four times more likely to be hospitalized for diabetic ketoacidosis, according to a new study. Authored by Dr. Osagie Ebekozien, a professor at the University of Mississippi, the study provides new insight into the long term complications related to COVID-19. 

An assistant professor at the John D. Bower School of Population Health, Ebekozien also found that Latino patients with COVID-19 and type I diabetes were twice as likely to develop diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA).

Ebekozien said he thought people won’t be surprised that there are disparities based on race but there could be surprises at the magnitude. “Almost four times, that’s really significant once you think of all the population in general,” Ebekozien said in an interview with HealthDay. “The depths of inequities … is something that calls for more attention.”

DKA is a dangerous complication that arises when a Type I diabetes patient’s blood sugar is too high and their insulin levels are too low. Not producing enough insulin can lead to the body not getting the glucose it needs to fuel the body. Untreated the condition can lead to a diabetic coma or death. 

Ebekozien’s study raises new concerns for practitioners treating Black and Latino patients across the country. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention lists type I diabetes as one of several medical conditions that might lead to an increased risk for severe illness arising from COVID-19. With new variants spreading around the country, and vaccine distribution lagging people with pre-existing conditions like type I diabetes need to be extra careful. 

“Structural and interpersonal racism have both kept Black Mississippians from receiving the high-quality medical care they have deserved for generations,” Dr. Joia Crear-Perry, founder and president of the National Birth Equity Collaborative, said in a recent conversation with NewsOne. 

Crear-Perry advised that making sure people are aware of the increased risk for complications is an important step.

“The political and medical community of Mississippi valuing Black lives and ensuring they receive timely, appropriate, culturally responsive care is the next,” she said. 

Some experts say that systemic racism could lead to patients not receiving life-saving technologies, like continuous glucose monitoring,  that can help track blood sugar in real-time. While type I diabetes is less common than type II, proper treatment could mean the difference between life and death in the case of DKA. 

Anoa Changa is a movement journalist and retired attorney based in Atlanta, Georgia. Follow Anoa on Instagram and Twitter @thewaywithanoa.

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