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Is COVID-19 Behind an Increase in Diabetes Cases?

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03/29/2022
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Photo: AP Photo/Teresa Crawford

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Scientists are investigating a possible increase in diabetes cases since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

Diabetes is a condition in which the body cannot control sugars in the blood.

The scientists want to find out if COVID-19 has a connection with the increase or if it is a coincidence.

Increase in Diabetes

A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently examined two large U.S. insurance databases. The databases included information about new diabetes cases from March 2020 through June 2021.

The study found that diabetes was more common in children who had had COVID-19. The report did not look at the difference between Type 1 diabetes, which usually starts in childhood, and Type 2, the kind tied to being overweight.

Rates of both kinds of diabetes have risen in U.S. children in recent years. But reports from Europe and some U.S. hospitals suggest the rates may have increased more during the pandemic.

Dr. Inas Thomas of the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital said, “I think we’re all a little worried.”

Her hospital has seen a 30 percent increase in Type 1 diabetes, compared with the years before the pandemic, Thomas said. It is not known how many of the cases had COVID-19 at some point, but the timing raises concerns that there could be a connection, she said.

What Causes Diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes develops when the pancreas, an organ near the kidneys, produces little or no insulin, a hormone that controls blood sugar. It is thought to involve an autoimmune reaction. That means the body’s defense system attacks insulin-making cells in the pancreas. Patients must use manufactured insulin to deal with the condition.

Experts have believed for a long time that some earlier infection may set off that autoimmune reaction.

With COVID-19, “We don’t know if it’s a direct effect or some other factor that’s not fully understood yet, but we are hoping that this trend may help us figure out the trigger for what causes Type 1 diabetes,” Thomas said.

At Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, Type 1 diabetes cases jumped almost 60 percent during the first year of the pandemic, compared with the previous 12 months. Researchers recently reported the finding in the medical publication JAMA Pediatrics.

Just two percent of those children had had active COVID-19. The report did not have information on any previous infections. But the sharp increase was striking and “clearly there’s a lot more work to be done to try to answer why is this happening,″ said Dr. Jane Kim. She co-wrote the report.

Type 2 diabetes mostly affects adults. It changes how the body uses insulin, leading to poorly controlled blood sugar. Causes are uncertain but genetics, too much weight, inactivity, and unhealthy eating habits play a part. It can sometimes be treated or cured with lifestyle changes.

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Schedule22 May 2022
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