Is the coronavirus pandemic leading to an increase in childhood diabetes?

childhood diabetes coronavirus
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  • Researchers are concerned over a surge in Type 1 diabetes in children
  • Contracting COVID-19 may put children at higher risk for Type 1 diabetes
  • Far more research needs to be done on the issue

A U.K. study found that cases of Type 1 diabetes in children almost doubled during the peak of Britain’s coronavirus pandemic. The abrupt rise suggests a potential link between the two diseases. The study was small enough to require additional research before legitimate connections can be made, but researchers are on the lookout for whether COVID-19 affects childhood diabetes. 

Some of the children examined in the study tested positive for COVID-19 before testing positive for Type 1 diabetes. Far more research will be required before a definitive correlation can be drawn, but several reports from Italy and China noted similar trends (there’s also the risk of children contracting multisystem inflammatory syndrome because of COVID-19). 

Concerns that contracting COVID-19 may put children at higher risk for Type 1 diabetes are enhanced by the risks associated with diabetes. On top of the known risks presented by Type 1 diabetes, people with diabetes are at increased risk of serious illness from COVID-19. No evidence suggests that children with diabetes are at higher risk of contracting the virus than their non-diabetic peers. 

If they do contract coronavirus, however, their diabetes will place them in a higher risk category. The illness associated with the virus may impact blood glucose levels and “impact the ability to take in carbohydrates,” according to McMaster Children’s Hospital. Access to care may also be limited as the pandemic rages on.

Dr. Fran Cogen, a Washington D.C. physician and director of the Childhood and Adolescent Diabetes Program at Children’s National Hosptial, believes the risk extends even further. According to WTOP, her research suggests COVID-19 may act as a trigger for Type 1 childhood diabetes. She noted that Type 1 diabetes can be triggered by certain viruses in people already genetically predisposed to the disease. The seasonal flu has been known to act as a trigger, and she believes COVID-19 may do the same. 

Cogen noted some of the early warning signs of new-onset diabetes that parents can look out for. Early warnings include frequent urination, consistent hunger, and eating and drinking more often. If freshly potty-trained toddlers suddenly start having accidents, keep an eye out. Once the disease has progressed, it can lead to vomiting, blurred vision, and consistent fatigue.

Sources: Reuters, WTOP, CEBN, McMaster Children’s Hospital, Mayo Clinic

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