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New research project launched: Infection risk in people with diabetes

Published: 20 August 2021

Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

Diabetes is a chronic disease characterised by high blood glucose (or blood sugar) levels, which can lead to serious damage to the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys and nerves.

It is estimated that 422 million people around the world have diabetes, with 1.6 million deaths attributed to the disease each year. The number of people living with diabetes has been steadily increasing over the past few decades and is considered a global epidemic.

At St George’s, University of London, our transformational diabetes research includes studies in identifying new measures of disease, developing technology to prevent sight loss from diabetic eye disease, and understanding how diabetes impacts the risk of other diseases.

A new project to understand infection risk

Previous research by the Primary Care Epidemiology Group within the Population Health Research Institute at St George’s has shown that people with diabetes are at greater risk of infections, including skin, bone and joint, respiratory and urinary tract infections, and sepsis (blood poisoning).

Now, a new research project, funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR, Research for Patient Benefit), will build on these findings, taking into account the impacts of age, ethnicity and blood glucose control on infection risk, and other conditions, such as Covid-19 disease.

Led by Professor Tess Harris and Professor Julia Critchley, the joint project with St George’s Hospital, will use a large, anonymised dataset collected by GPs and hospitals, as well as national death statistics, to examine detailed information on cases of infections among those with diabetes. The team, also made up of Dr Arshia Panahloo (St George’s Hospital), Professor Derek Cook, Dr Iain Carey, Dr Umar Chaudhry and Dr Stephen de Wilde, will use this data to better understand if different ethnic groups are at greater risk of infection and how this impacts on the severity of disease and patient outcomes.  

“The findings from this project will hopefully enable us to generate better risk measures for people with diabetes,” says Professor Critchley, joint Principal Investigator on the study at St George’s.

“With this information, GPs will ideally be able to identify which patients have highest risk and provide advice so that they can identify the early signs of infection and get help and treatment earlier if needed.”

Foundations for future intervention

The team hope that the study will provide the foundation for future interventions designed to reduce the number and severity of infections in people with diabetes. Better knowledge of the links between risk and ethnicity will also help to plan more strategically for public health emergencies in future.

“At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, we had little to no data on how infection impacted different groups,” says Professor Harris. “Our work will build on what we now know, and provide wider information on the risks of various infections in association with diabetes.

“With this knowledge, bodies responsible for implementing public health measures will hopefully be better able to take appropriate actions in response to future waves of Covid-19 or other transmissible diseases in future – protecting those at greater risk, including people with diabetes.”

If you have questions or concerns about diabetes, or are just looking to understand more about the condition, you can find out more on the Diabetes UK or NHS websites.

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