Is there a link between your diabetes and the coronavirus?
When their 11-year-old son started losing weight and drinking lots of water, Tabitha and Bryan Balcitis blamed a growth spurt and advice from their health class. But an unusual moodiness and lethargy caused them concern, and tests revealed that his blood glucose levels were extremely high.
Just six months after suffering from mild symptoms of COVID-19, the boy from Crown Point, Indiana was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. His parents were stunned — diabetes doesn’t run in the family, but autoimmune disorders do and the doctors told them that could be a factor.
Was there a link between his diabetes and coronavirus, Nolan’s mother, who is a respiratory therapist, wondered. It turns out that scientists in the United States and elsewhere are wondering the same thing and investigating whether the connection is more than coincidental.
It is clear that in those who already have diabetes, COVID-19 can worsen the condition and cause serious complications. But there are other possible links. New evidence indicates that the coronavirus — like other viruses — can attack insulin-producing cells in the pancreas — a process that can trigger at least temporary diabetes in susceptible people. The increase in cases could also reflect circumstances related to restrictions due to the pandemic, including the delay in medical care due to initial symptoms of diabetes and poor eating habits and inactivity in people already at risk of Type 2 diabetes.
A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) examined two insurance databases in the United States that included new cases of diabetes from March 2020 through June 2021. The disease was substantially more common in children than had suffered from COVID-19. The report makes no distinction between Type 1, which usually begins in childhood, and Type 2, which is linked to obesity.
Rates of both types of diabetes have increased among children in the United States in recent years, but reports from Europe and some US hospitals indicate the pace may have accelerated during the pandemic.
“I think we’re all a little concerned,” said Dr. Inas Thomas, a specialist at the University of Michigan Mott Children’s Hospital.
His hospital has seen a 30% increase in Type 1 diabetes cases, compared to pre-pandemic years, he says. It is NOT known how many had COVID-19 at any one time, but the timing suggests there might be a connection, she adds.