In a study from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, scientists found testing positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is associated with an increased risk of new-onset type 1 diabetes in children and adolescents.
They used national health registers to examine new-onset type 1 diabetes diagnoses made in all youngsters aged under 18 in Norway (over 1.2 million individuals) over the course of 2 years, starting on March 1, 2020, comparing those who contracted COVID-19 with those who did not.
Several recent case reports have suggested a link between new-onset type 1 diabetes and SARS-CoV-2 infection in adults. But the evidence is more limited to children.
A recent report found that US children were 2.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes following a SARS-CoV-2 infection.
But it pooled all types of diabetes together and did not account for other health conditions, medications that can increase blood sugar levels, race or ethnicity, obesity, and other social determinants of health that might influence a child’s risk of acquiring COVID-19 or diabetes.
In this study, the team linked individual-level data from national health registries for all children and adolescents in Norway (1,202,174 people).
Data were obtained from the Norwegian preparedness register that is updated daily with individual-level data on PCR-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infections, COVID-19 vaccinations, and disease diagnoses from the primary and secondary health care services.
Children were followed from March 1, 2020 (the start of the pandemic) until a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes, or they turned 18 years old, or death, or the end of the study (March 1, 2022), whichever occurred first.
The researchers examined the risk of young people developing new-onset type 1 diabetes within or after 30 days after PCR-confirmed SARS-CoV2 infection.
They compared this group with children and adolescents in the general population who did not have a registered infection, as well as to a group of children who were tested but found to be negative for the virus.
The team found that young people who contracted COVID-19 were around 60% more likely to develop type 1 diabetes 30 days or more after infection compared to those without a registered infection or who tested negative for the virus.
The exact reason for the increased risk of type 1 diabetes in young people after COVID-19 is not yet fully understood and requires longer-term follow-up and further research.
It’s possible that delays in seeking care because of the pandemic might explain some of the increases in new cases.
However, several studies have shown that SARS-CoV-2 can attack the beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, which could lead to the development of type 1 diabetes.
It’s also possible that inflammation caused by the virus may lead to exacerbation of already existing autoimmunity.
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The study was conducted by Hanne Løvdal Gulseth et al and presented at the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) Annual Meeting.
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