Covid-19 ‘linked to increase in new diagnoses of type 1 diabetes in children’

Covid-19 ‘linked to increase in new diagnoses of type 1 diabetes in children’

Covid-19 ‘linked to increase in new diagnoses of type 1 diabetes in children’

Children who had Covid-19 may be at higher risk of developing type 1 diabetes than those who did not, a new study suggests.

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

However, the researchers highlight that it is not clear why type 1 diabetes appears to be more common post-Covid, and experts say more research is needed.

Pamela Davis, Distinguished University Professor at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine – a corresponding author, said: “Type 1 diabetes is considered an autoimmune disease.

“It mostly occurs because the body’s immune system attacks the cells that produce insulin, thereby stopping insulin production and causing the disease.

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

Jamie Hartmann-Boyce, associate professor at the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford, said: “The team is using a strong study design to investigate this link, comparing people with Sars-CoV-2 to a matched group with other respiratory viruses in same period.

“However, there is still some uncertainty as to whether Covid-19 causes type 1 diabetes, or whether something else links the two.

“Covid testing, especially at the start of the pandemic, was not widespread in young people, and type 1 diabetes is also not routinely tested for, making it difficult to determine whether one can cause the other.

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

Gareth Nye, Head of Medical Science and Lecturer in Physiology at the University of Chester, said: “There are many factors to appreciate in this finding and this study does not attempt to prove mechanistic links between the two just observationally, so we should take the results with careful consideration.

“For example, we may see that undiagnosed type 1 diabetes is brought to light because of the additional infection or simply that after an infection they are more likely to be monitored more closely.”

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

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, and also those diagnosed with a non-Covid respiratory infection.

The patients were further divided into two groups – those up to nine years and those aged 10-18.

The study found that among more than 571,000 patients under the age of 18, within six months of Covid infection, 123 patients (0.043%) had a new diagnosis of type 1 diabetes, compared with 72 patients (0.025%) who were newly diagnosed after a non-Covid respiratory infection, a 72% increase in new diagnoses.

Researchers found that one, three and six months after infection, the risk of diagnosis of type 1 diabetes was significantly higher for those infected with Covid compared to those with non-Covid respiratory infections.

Similar results were reported with patients in the infant to nine and 10 to 18 age groups.

Prof Davis said: “Families at high risk of type 1 diabetes in their children should be particularly aware of post-Covid symptoms of diabetes and paediatricians should be aware of an influx of new cases of type 1 diabetes, particularly since the Omicron variant of Covid spreads so 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.”

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

Dr Faye Riley, head of research communications at Diabetes UK, said: “Research around the world has identified higher than expected numbers of new-onset type 1 diabetes in people who have had Covid-19, but questions remain about how they are linked, and whether others factors come into play.

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

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