Diabetes care during natural disasters and emergencies

Tornados, floods, power outages, etc. are special challenges for people with diabetes. Find out what you can do now to be prepared.

The recent devastating spring tornadoes and strong storms in neighboring states is a cause for concern for Michigan residents, especially those living with diabetes. Some simple planning for emergency challenges will help you be prepared for various weather events.

The first step is being prepared to protect yourself and your loved ones. Start by gathering emergency supplies and making a family plan using the guide provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has compiled many natural disaster and emergency resources in English, Spanish and several other languages.

Persons living with diabetes have special considerations, especially during the first 72 hours of a power outage.

  • Insulin storage and potency: Patients should try to keep their insulin as cool as possible, avoiding direct heat and direct sunlight as well as freezing if placed on ice. Although a physician should supervise when switching insulin products, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has provided recommendations for emergency situations.
  • Using blood glucose meters: Heat and humidity can damage blood glucose meters and test strips. If you use a blood glucose meter, check the meter and test strip package insert for information on use during unusual heat and humidity. Store and handle the meter and test strips according to the instructions. Perform quality-control checks to make sure that your home glucose testing is accurate and reliable.
  • Hand hygiene: After an emergency, it can be difficult to find running water. However, it is still important to wash your hands to avoid illness or infection, especially when testing your blood glucose or treating a wound. Learn tips at the CDC hand hygiene resource.
  • Eating right: The state of New Jersey’s diabetes disaster guide contains a list of food items to store, including bottled water, some healthy carbohydrates and protein. Suggestions include peanut butter and crackers, individual serving sized canned tuna, juice, fruit and soda.
  • Drinking water: Water may not be safe to drink, clean with, or bathe in after a hurricane or flood, which can be a particular problem for people with diabetes, who especially need to drink fluids and keep wounds clean. Read more at the CDC food, water, sanitation and hygiene information for before and after disasters.
  • Emergency wound care: People often receive wound injuries during and after a natural disaster, and wound care is of particular importance for people with diabetes. More information at CDC’s wound care guide.

If you are an evacuee or are in an emergency situation, it is important to identify yourself as a person with diabetes and any related conditions, so you can obtain appropriate care. It is also important to prevent dehydration by drinking enough fluids, which can be difficult when drinking water is in short supply. In addition, it is helpful to keep something containing sugar with you at all times, in case you develop hypoglycemia, low blood glucose. To prevent infections, people with diabetes are more vulnerable, pay careful attention to the health of your feet and get medical treatment for any wounds.

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