Children who have had Covid-19 may be at higher risk of developing type 1 diabetes than those who have not, a new study suggests.
The research, which analyzed the health records of more than a million children under the age of 18, found a 72% increase in new diagnoses of the condition in coronavirus patients.
However, the researchers stress that it’s not clear why type 1 diabetes appears to be more common after Covid, and experts say more research is needed.
Pamela Davis, Distinguished University Professor at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine, corresponding author of the study, said: “Type 1 diabetes is considered an autoimmune disease.
“It occurs mainly because the body’s immune defenses attack the cells that produce insulin, thus stopping insulin production and causing the disease.
“Covid has been suggested to increase autoimmune responses, and our current finding reinforces that suggestion.”
Jamie Hartmann-Boyce, Associate Professor at the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford, said: “The team uses a robust study design to investigate this link, comparing people with Sars-CoV-2 with a group matched with other respiratory viruses during the same period.
“However, there is still some uncertainty as to whether Covid-19 causes type 1 diabetes or whether something else links them.
“Covid testing, particularly at the start of the pandemic, was not widespread among young people, and type 1 diabetes is also not tested regularly, making it difficult to establish whether one might cause the other.
He added: “Further studies like the one presented here should be done to see if the same results are found using different methods and in different groups of people.”
Gareth Nye, Medical Sciences Program Leader and Professor of Physiology at the University of Chester, said: “There are many factors to look at in this finding and this study is not trying to prove mechanistic links between the two, just observational, so we need to take the results with careful consideration.
“For example, we may be seeing undiagnosed type 1 diabetes coming to light due to additional infection or simply that after an infection they are more likely to be monitored more closely. ”
He added: “It’s certainly worth reminding the public to watch out for the four ‘T’ symptoms of type 1 diabetes for early diagnosis and prompt treatment: needing to go to the bathroom more, being thirstier, losing weight and becoming more tired, as this will undoubtedly save lives.”
The researchers analyzed the health records of nearly 1.1 million patients in the United States 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 divided into two groups: those up to nine years old and those between 10 and 18 years old.
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 received a new diagnosis of type 1 diabetes, compared to 72 patients (0.025%). ) who received a new diagnosis after a non-Covid respiratory infection, a 72% increase in new diagnoses.
The researchers found that one, three and six months after infection, the risk of type 1 diabetes diagnosis was substantially higher for people infected with Covid compared to those with non-Covid respiratory infections.
Similar results have been reported with patients in the age groups of infants to nine years and 10 to 18 years.
Professor Davis said: “Families at high risk of type 1 diabetes in their children need to be especially alert to symptoms of diabetes after Covid, and pediatricians need to be alert to the influx of new cases of type 1 diabetes, especially since the Omicron variant of Covid spreads so quickly among children.
“It is possible that we will see a substantial increase in this disease in the coming months or years.
“Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong challenge for those with it, and the rising incidence accounts for a sizeable number of affected children.”
The findings are published in the journal Jama Network Open.
Dr Faye Riley, Research Communications Manager at Diabetes UK, said: “Research around the world has identified a higher than expected number of new cases of type 1 diabetes in people who have had covid-19, but still there are questions about how they are related, and whether other factors are at play.
“While these findings add to the evidence for a possible link between COVID-19 and type 1 diabetes, it remains unclear whether COVID-19 could directly increase your risk of developing type 1 diabetes.”