COVID-19 linked to increased new diagnoses of type 1 diabetes in children

A new study has found that children who have contracted Covid-19 may be more likely to develop type 1 diabetes than those who have not.

The research, which looked at the health records of more than 1 million children aged 18 or younger, found a 72% increase in new diagnoses of the condition in coronavirus patients.

However, researchers highlight that it is not clear why type 1 diabetes is more common after Covid, and experts say more research is needed.

“Type 1 diabetes is considered an autoimmune disease,” said Pamela Davis, MD, Distinguished University Professor at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine — and author of an interview study.

This mostly happens because the body’s immune defenses attack the cells that produce insulin, thus stopping insulin production and causing disease.

“Covid has been suggested to increase autoimmune responses, and our current findings reinforce this suggestion.”

“The team is using a robust study design to investigate this association, comparing people infected with SARS-CoV-2 with a matched group of other respiratory viruses over the same period,” said Jamie Hartmann Boyce, associate professor in the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Sciences at the University of Oxford.

However, there is still some uncertainty about whether Covid-19 causes type 1 diabetes, or if there is something else connecting them.

Testing for Covid, especially at the beginning of the epidemic, was not common among young people, nor is type 1 diabetes tested regularly, making it difficult to determine whether one could cause the other.

He added: “More studies like the one presented here needs to be done to see if the same results are found using different methods and in different groups of people.”

Gareth Nye, Head of the Medical Sciences Program and Lecturer in Physiology at the University of Chester, said: “There are many factors to be appreciated in this finding and this study does not attempt to prove mechanistic links between the two is solely based on observation and so we must take the findings with careful consideration.

For example, we may see undiagnosed type 1 diabetes develop due to additional infection or simply because it is more likely to be closely monitored after infection. “

He added: “It is certainly worth reminding the public to look out for the four ‘T’ symptoms of type 1 diabetes for early diagnosis and prompt treatment: needing to toilet more, feeling thirsty, thin and tired as this will undoubtedly save lives.”

The researchers analyzed the health records of nearly 1.1 million patients in America and 13 other countries diagnosed with Covid between March 2020 and December 2021, as well as those diagnosed with a respiratory infection other than Covid.

The patients were also divided into two groups – up to 9 years of age and those aged 10 to 18 years.

The study found that of more than 571,000 patients under the age of 18, within six months of contracting COVID-19, 123 (0.043%) patients received a new diagnosis of type 1 diabetes, compared to 72 patients (0.025%) who received a new diagnosis. After non-Covid respiratory infection, 72% increase in new diagnoses.

The researchers found that one, three and six months after infection, the risk of being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes was significantly higher for those with Covid than for those with non-Covid respiratory infections.

Similar results have been reported with patients in the age group of infants to nine years and 10 to 18 years.

Professor Davis said: “Families with a high risk of type 1 diabetes in their children should be especially vigilant for symptoms of post-Covid diabetes, and pediatricians should be alert to the influx of new cases of type 1 diabetes, especially as Omicron, a variant of Covid, is spreading very quickly among children.

We may see a significant increase in this disease in the coming months to years.

“Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong challenge for those who have it, and the increased incidence represents a significant number of children affected by it.”

The results have been published in the journal Jama Network Open.

Dr Faye Riley, Director of Research Communications at Diabetes UK, said: “Research around the world has identified higher than expected numbers of new type 1 diabetes in people who have contracted Covid-19, but there are still question marks surrounding how their association, and whether other factors play a role.

“While these findings add to evidence of a possible link between Covid-19 and type 1 diabetes, it remains unclear whether Covid-19 can directly increase the risk of type 1 diabetes.”