COVID-19 is linked to more diabetes diagnoses among kids, CDC study finds

A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that COVID-19 may be linked to a lifelong health problem in some children who contract the disease. The study, published on January 7, found that children and adolescents are more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes a month or more after their COVID infection, compared to those who do not.

Using two different health databases, IQVIA and HealthVerity, researchers assessed data from thousands of patients under the age of 18 between March 1, 2020 and February 26, 2021, comparing those who had received a diagnosis of COVID-19 to those who had a pre-pandemic, non-COVID respiratory infection, and also to those who had neither.

They found that children in the IQVIA database diagnosed with COVID-19 during this time were 166% more likely than those who did not have COVID to be later diagnosed with diabetes. In the HealthVerity database, children with COVID were 31% more likely to be newly diagnosed with diabetes.

The researchers said children who have had COVID were also 116% more likely to develop diabetes than those who had non-COVID respiratory infections before the pandemic. Non-COVID respiratory infection “was not associated with diabetes,” the researchers said.

Dr. Mary Pat Gallagher, director of NYU Langone’s Pediatric Diabetes Center, told CBS News that certain infections are thought to create a “perfect storm” that contributes to the development of diabetes.

“If you’re in the process of developing diabetes, will an infection really cause you to be diagnosed faster than you might otherwise be able to?” she said. “It looks like we may now be finding out that COVID is one of the viruses that maybe can do that a bit more than other viruses.”

“I think it’s likely, we don’t have the data, but that these children were on the verge of developing diabetes. Maybe it would have been in two years, maybe in five years, but that would come” she added. “And maybe this infection pushed them towards an earlier diagnosis.”

This increase in diabetes diagnoses throughout the pandemic is something Dr. Sheela Natesh Magge, director of the pediatric endocrinology division at Johns Hopkins, has also seen.

“We’re seeing so many more kids coming in with diabetes,” she told CBS News. “And they are sicker.”

The CDC study, Magge explained, helps affirm this information. However, it does not specify whether diabetes is stimulated by COVID itself or by other factors. The study is based on insurance claims data and does not include information on demographic risk factors that could have contributed to a diagnosis of diabetes, including previous health status, weight and environment.

Magge specifically pointed to the fact that the pandemic has increased food insecurity, as well as the increase in stress and obesity over the past two years – factors that can significantly influence overall health.

“There is evidence that COVID-19 infection could affect insulin secretion,” she said. “So, you know, we just don’t know what are the different effects of the pandemic that are causing it. Is it actually an infection, or is it just the pandemic itself and all the related societal factors?”

“You might see it because of all the issues with at-risk kids [of diabetes], like because of food insecurity, parents out of work, inactivity,” she said, “all those other factors are there as well.”

The researchers noted this in their study, saying the development of diabetes could be attributed to how COVID affects organs in the body, such as “the direct attack on pancreatic cells.” The researchers said it is also likely that some of the patients included in the study had already prediabetes when they contracted COVID. Prediabetes, they said, affects 20% of adolescents in the United States

“If you were already at risk, the pandemic probably made it worse,” Magge explained. “The stress of any infection can raise blood sugar and may put you at higher risk for complications from diabetes, as your blood sugar could rise.”

The researchers also said pandemic weight gain and the steroid treatment the patients may have received while in hospital may have contributed to the hyperglycemia and diabetes. But, they added, only 1.5% to 2.2% of the patients they studied would have diabetes induced by drugs or chemicals.

Further studies of the factors involved in diabetes diagnosis and disease severity need to be conducted, the CDC said.

Regardless of whether the cases of pediatric diabetes stem directly from the virus itself or from these wider offshoots, Magge said the study is “definitely alarming,” especially considering the long-term impact.

“I think that underscores that there’s a lot we don’t know about this virus,” she added. “It highlights the importance of prevention, the importance of each to get vaccinated and all of those things, because there’s a lot of things that we don’t know, and that’s really concerning.”

Having COVID or any other viral infection while having diabetes can also make it harder to manage diabetes, Dr. Gallagher added.

“COVID, in particular, really seems to put children at risk for DKA much more frequently when they have type 2 diabetes than we’ve seen with other viral infections in the past,” he said. she declared. Diabetic ketoacidosis occurs when there is not enough insulin and the liver begins to break down fat for fuel. This process produces acids called ketones, which can build up to dangerous levels, according to the CDC.

“It’s kind of scary,” Gallagher said, “because it’s life threatening.”

Many reports indicate that symptoms of COVID-19 are generally milder for children, and the Omicron variant also appears to be somewhat less severe than earlier strains. But Magge said there was no way of knowing what long-term effects of COVID will be, regardless of the symptoms.

Dr Gallagher encouraged people “not to panic” about the study finding, but to use it as a reminder to work to prevent COVID infections, and for parents to be aware of the symptoms of COVID-19. diabetes. These may include increased thirst and urination and weight loss. The most serious symptoms include nausea, vomiting and lethargy.

COVID vaccines, which are recommended for from 5 years, “doesn’t necessarily prevent you from getting an infection…and we don’t have any data yet on whether vaccination will reduce the risk of developing diabetes after COVID infection, because that’s very new. But there is has good reason to believe it might,” she said.


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