How to Catch Diabetes

Everything you need to know to catch the world’s most elusive autoimmune disease

I will admit that hearing people talk about ‘catching diabetes’ stirs up violent feelings inside me. I mean, I completely understand that people just don’t know enough about this disease that just so happens to be one of the leading global causes of blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke and lower limb amputation

And I totally get it that people just aren’t aware of what really causes this disease that has catapulted from affecting 108 million people in 1980, to a mind-blowing 422 million people in 2014.  I mean, it’s no big deal that 1.6 million people died specifically because of Diabetes in 2016, right? But here we are scarfing down pies, pastries, pizza and anything packed with sugar, while making pseudo health-conscious ‘jokes’ about ‘not wanting to catch diabetes’.

Arrgh…there goes those violent feelings again, bubbling up inside me like an uncontrolled case of hyperglycaemia, while the muscles in my legs cramp viciously and I run to the bathroom to weep from my bladder for the forty-second time today. All because I ate a small stack of blueberry pancakes this morning, and forgot to take my insulin. 

But yeah, you’re joking about ‘catching diabetes’ while inhaling your fifth soda for the day. No kidding, Mr. Wise Guy. Keep drinking yourself sick… (see what I did there?)

You can’t catch it bruv…

Public Service Announcement – while Diabetes is unfortunately becoming increasingly common worldwide, it sure ain’t a cold, and you sure as shit cannot ‘catch it’. 

So, if you’re here because you’re newly diagnosed, uninformed, misinformed, unaware, previously concerned that you may have caught this dreadful disease, or just ‘bad mind’ at all the people who blithely overindulge in all the things actual diabetics should not, let’s talk about how people get Diabetes in real life. 

Let’s talk about Type 1

For the purpose of this blog, I’d like to focus on Type 1 Diabetes – and yes—that’s the bad type…just like all the other types. I mean, I could talk about all the types, but just like a good diet, everything is better in moderation. Well, except ice cream…but I digress.

Though it gained popularity as ‘Juvenile Diabetes’ or insulin-dependent Diabetes, scientists have found that there’s more to Type 1 Diabetes than just insulin or the age at which its diagnosed. No one is too old to develop Type 1 Diabetes – it’s an autoimmune disease with no age or gender bias. 

What is Type 1 Diabetes, anyway?

In case you’re like me and thought ‘auto-what?’…let me say it plainly. Type 1 Diabetes occurs when your immune system (your body’s built in infection-fighting army) attacks and destroys the beta cells in the pancreas which produce insulin. Insulin is the hormone which enables glucose to enter our body’s cells and give them energy. So, here’s my favourite analogy for this: 

An un-bee-lievable analogy

The beta cells in your body are like bees in a hive (the hive being the pancreas, you know). They are the ones who work hard to produce the honey (read insulin) to keep their little bee economy flourishing and growing. But in a fit of self-destructive rage, the immune system – a emotional Queen Bee in its own right – unleashed its fury on the bees, wiping them out in a near total massacre. Now, the body has to rely on external bees and their honey for support so that it can continue to live.

Now that I think about it, this might not be the greatest analogy, because now I’m thinking about honey-covered donuts. But I hope you get the gist. Now let’s talk about how you get it

At this juncture, I will reiterate one key point – you CANNOT ‘catch’ Diabetes, dammit. This disease, specifically Type 1, chooses you carefully – whether based on your genetics, family health history or just general predisposition to having shitty luck (just kidding, kinda). Studies also suggest that there are some viruses which may contribute to the development of Type 1 Diabetes, and while it usually takes a while to develop Type 2 Diabetes, Type 1 can take you down in the space of a few weeks.

A few hints that you might have diabetes…

Like me, you could be fine one day and then the next thing you know you have the ‘flu’. Then when you realise the ‘flu’ isn’t going anywhere, you start thinking you’re going to die now because your eyesight has turned to eyeshit, you’ve lost 20 pounds in just two weeks, you’re insatiably thirsty, weak, starving, irritable, confused and considering moving your bedroom into the bathroom so that it’s not such a long walk to pee when you now have to go every 5 minutes. 

Rumour had it that I had AIDS, and that ‘duppy did deh pan me’ i.e. I was being haunted by ghosts. But as it turns out, there was just a poltergeist in my pancreas mucking about with the insulin-producing cells. 

Am I contagious? No.

If we’re sitting on a bus beside each other and I cough, will you catch Type 1 Diabetes? Not since the last time I checked.

Can it become an airborne epidemic? Not even if you wrote it on a paper plane and bid it ‘Bon Voyage’. 

So can you catch Diabetes? 

It’s looking like a no…if you ask me.

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