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COVID-19 Infection May Raise Risk of Diabetes in Children, Study Revealed

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The COVID-19 pandemic is an ongoing global pandemic caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). As of 10th January 2022, more than 307 million people have been infected, with 5.5 million people died from COVID-19 worldwide and 259 million recovered. 

Most people infected with this virus will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment. However, some do end up in hospital or even ICU and require ventilation with extra treatment. A recent study has been carried out in the US to further investigate the link between COVID-19 and diabetes.

COVID-19 Omicron variant

Figure 1: SARS-CoV-2 3D Model

What is already known about this topic? 

Older people and people with existing diabetes diagnosis are at higher risk of developing serious symptoms. People with cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, or cancer are also more likely to develop serious illness. 

What is added by this study?

People aged 18 years or younger with COVID-19 could be more likely to develop new type 1 diabetes and diabetic ketoacidosis 30 days after infection than their peers without a COVID-19 infection. Children with other respiratory infections like pneumonia, bronchitis are also not at higher risk of developing type 1 diabetes. 

The data has indicated that children who caught COVID-19 were 1.31 times more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes. 

The study has shown that children of certain minority ethnic groups could be more affected by COVID-19 and are at even higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The study did not specify which race or ethnicity it was referring to. 

Risk for diabetes was shown to be similar across age and gender groups among people under 18. 

How can we explain the result? 

In short, we do not have an explanation yet. But it has been established that the onset of type 1 diabetes is closely linked to recent infection and abnormalities of immune system as a result. 

What can we do?

The study has highlighted the importance of vaccinating children against COVID-19. Currently most Asian countries have set the minimum age of COVID-19 vaccination around 3 to 5. Parents are strongly advised to bring their children to vaccination as soon as they are available. 

What does the expert say?

Medical Channel Asia has interviewed Assistant Professor Dr. Ben Ng, an esteemed consultant endocrinologist from Arden Endocrinology in Singapore. Let’s hear what the expert says: 

1. What are your initial thoughts when reading this article? 

Let’s start by stating that the results are worrying but this is an initial observation that we are seeing here so the results are preliminary. 

Are they believable? Yes, certainly. The onset of diabetes, especially type one diabetes and numerous other autoimmune conditions are often preceded by infections. 

2. Why do you think a Covid19 infection could trigger or cause Diabetes? 

Like other autoimmune conditions that occur following infection, the exact cause is unclear. But some believe that it is due to an imperfect immune response in infected patients resulting in the formation of an abnormal antibody which can in turn attack other parts of the body such as the pancreas in this case.

3. Do you have a message for parents with children who have had Covid19 infections? What should they look out for and what should they do if their child develops Diabetic symptoms? 

Just like any new infection, there is a lot we don’t understand about COVID-19 infections at the present time, but the body of evidence is growing. 

If you find that your child becomes unwell at any stage even a month after infection, please get him to see a doctor. 

Common symptoms of diabetes include tiredness, weight loss, loss of appetite, excessive thirst and urination. 

4. Any other comments?

Though the results of the study may indeed prove to be true, the actual numbers of children demonstrated in this study who developed of diabetes is thankfully still relatively small. That does not mean we should not be vigilant, but it is good to know that based on the current data we have, not many may develop this condition in the event of a COVID-19 infection. 

This also once again drives home the need for prevention of COVID-19 infections including vaccination, social distancing and adequate hygiene.

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