The coronavirus pandemic has hit many countries around the world very hard, with millions of people being diagnosed with COVID-19. At the same time, researchers have also found that new cases of type 1 diabetes (T1D) have also grown. Though there is no definitive link between COVID-19 and T1D, scientists do know that in some cases, the virus may contribute to increased beta cell damage. Diabetes occurs when insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas are damaged or destroyed.
A small study in England found that the number of new cases of T1D at two of its five Pediatric Diabetes Network locations increased by 80 percent in April and May. Over the past five years, these two locations diagnosed an average of two and four new cases respectively during those two months, whereas this year, they have each diagnosed 10 new cases. Across the five sites, 30 children and teenagers (all under age 17) were diagnosed with T1D, and 21 of these individuals experienced diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). Out of those 21 cases, 11 were considered severe, and 12 children experienced clinical shock resulting in four being admitted to pediatric intensive care units.
Although only two of the children tested positive for COVID-19 when admitted to the hospital, another 3 tested positive for antibodies meaning they had been previously exposed to the virus.
England is not the only country that has seen an increase in new T1D cases either. Studies in China and Italy both showed that since the pandemic started, they have seen more children than usual being diagnosed with T1D. There was no distinct tie between COVID-19 infections and diabetes in these countries either.
Additional research is needed to determine whether COVID-19 may play a role in T1D risk. There is still a lot about the virus that researchers do not know, and they are still exploring its short- and long-term effects on health. The Diabetes Research Connection (DRC), though not involved in this study, is committed to advancing research around type 1 diabetes and provides critical funding to early-career scientists. Learn more about current projects and how you can help by visiting https://diabetesresearchconnection.org.