By Susan Trainor

Do you have diabetes?  Do you love or know someone with diabetes?  Do you take care of people who have diabetes?

You probably answered ‘yes’ to at least one, and maybe more than one of those questions.   While it’s hard to relate to statistics when it’s ‘nearly 26 million Americans’ think of it this way: 26 million Americans translates into about 1 in 12 people.  That’s you or people you know.

So the next time you are walking through the waiting room of your office, or are in line in the cafeteria, do a quick count of the people around you.  1 in 12.  And as people get older more have diabetes, so that among 65+ year olds, 3 in 12 people have diabetes.   Worse still – among all these people that have diabetes almost 25% don’t even know it.

As if that’s not enough, 3 among those 12 people in the waiting room now have ‘pre-diabetes’ – a condition in which a person’s blood sugars are higher than normal but not quite high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes.   People with pre-diabetes have a much higher risk of having diabetes within 10 years.

More bad news – 4 in 12 children born in 2000 will have diabetes in their lifetime.

Diabetes affects all kinds of people in all kinds of ways and to make things more confusing, diabetes isn’t just one disease.  Five percent of Americans who have diabetes have type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease in which the body’s ability to make insulin is damaged by an abnormal immune responses to cells that make insulin in the pancreas.    The other ninety five percent of people with diabetes have type 2  diabetes, which is  associated with a family history of the disease, obesity and sedentary lifestyle.  Most people who have type 1 feel sick when they get their disease but people can live years with pre-diabetes and even type 2 diabetes and not know it.

Whether it’s type 1 or type 2, diabetes has reached epidemic proportions, an epidemic being “an outbreak or unusually high occurrence of a disease” that is spread by infection or is contagious.   Most of the epidemic now is type 2 diabetes  and while easy to understand the contagiousness of flu epidemics, it’s sometimes a little harder to see that diabetes is a contagious disease too.  While it’s not spread by droplet exposure or direct physical contact, type 2 diabetes is a socially contagious disease and that’s something we can all do something about.  It may be hard to see the dish of chocolates on the counter as a vector for disease (and that thinking may be a little too radical for some) but the way we are living today is making type 2 diabetes more contagious.

And that’s where diabetes stops being about numbers and starts being about us.

Raising diabetes awareness is the first step in slowing the contagiousness of diabetes just like raising awareness of flu has helped slow the contagiousness of that disease.

As part of your own effort to raise diabetes awareness think about something you might do this month that would help slow the social contagiousness of type 2 diabetes.  Grab a co-worker and take a quick walk at break or consider a veggie or fruit tray next time you bring something to a covered dish get-together.

Small things add up over time and can become socially contagious.   And that’s where diabetes stops being about numbers and starts being about us.

Susan Trainor is a nurse practitioner and Certified Diabetes Educator and works in the Division of Diabetes and Endocrinology at Mount Nittany Physician Group.  She is also a founding board member of People Centre’D on Diabetes a local non-profit diabetes advocacy group.