Children and adolescents infected with COVID-19 show a substantially higher risk of developing type 1 diabetes (T1D), according to a study of over 1 million patients aged 18 and younger.
The findings, published recently in the journal JAMA Network Open, showed a 72 per cent increase in new diagnoses of T1D in younger COVID-19 patients in the six months following their diagnosis.
However, the research emphasised that it is unclear whether COVID-19 triggers new onset of T1D.
"Type 1 diabetes is considered an autoimmune disease," said Pamela Davis, a professor at the Case Western Reserve School of Medicine, US, and corresponding author of the study.
"It occurs mostly because the body's immune defenses attack the cells that produce insulin, thereby stopping insulin production and causing the disease. COVID has been suggested to increase autoimmune responses, and our present finding reinforces that suggestion," Davis said.
The team analysed the de-identified electronic health records of nearly 1.1 million patients aged 18 years and younger in the US and 13 other countries diagnosed with the SARS-CoV-2 infection between March 2020 and December 2021.
The patients also included those diagnosed with a non-COVID-related respiratory infection during that same period.
The study found that within six months of SARS-CoV2 infection, 123 patients had received a new diagnosis of T1D, compared to 72 patients who received a new diagnosis following a non-COVID respiratory infection, an increase of 72 per cent in new diagnoses.
At one, three and six months following infection, the risk of diagnosis of T1D was substantially greater for those infected with SARS-CoV-2 compared to those with non-COVID respiratory infections, the researchers said.
Similar results were reported with patients in the infant-9-year-old and 10- to 18-year-old age groups, they said.
"Families with high risk of type 1 diabetes in their children should be especially alert for symptoms of diabetes following COVID, and pediatricians should be alert for an influx of new cases of type 1 diabetes, especially since the Omicron variant of COVID spreads so rapidly among children," Davis said.
"We may see a substantial increase in this disease in the coming months to years. Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong challenge for those who have it, and increased incidence represents substantial numbers of children afflicted," the scientist added.
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First Published: Sep 26 2022 | 5:19 PM IST