A recent report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows a link between an increased incidence of diabetes in kids under 18 who have recovered from Covid infection.
In the report, the study authors found that kids who were infected with Covid were anywhere from 30% to 166% (0.3 times to 2.6 times) more likely to develop type 1 or type 2 diabetes at least 30 days after infection than their uninfected peers.
This is a scary finding, but there’s an important caveat: These claims were made in the period before vaccinations were authorized for kids between the ages of 5 and 18.
But this research is highly important: These findings back up what researchers in Europe have been seeing as well: a rise in pediatric type 1 diabetes cases since the pandemic started. Other studies on adults have shown that diabetes may be a long-term result of Covid infection, too. Here’s more on what the new report tells us about the relationship between Covid and diabetes.
What the report says
Looking at large health insurance companies’ claims data between March 2020 and February 2021, the researchers were able to examine two big data sets to view the prevalence of diabetes onset after Covid. They found a 166% increase in diabetes claims in kids under 18 who had Covid in one database, and a 30% increase in the second.
Diabetes was significantly higher among those with Covid than among those without Covid in both databases, the researchers note. The incidence of type 1 diabetes (an autoimmune condition) versus type 2 diabetes (a chronic disease) was not analyzed in this study.
The study authors also examined diabetes claims made before the pandemic began in kids who had an acute respiratory infection that was not Covid, and found no increased risk of diabetes. This further links Covid infection itself to diabetes onset—not just other respiratory viruses in general.
The relationship between Covid and diabetes
These findings support two facts we already know about the relationship between Covid and diabetes: For kids and adults, Covid can make diabetes symptoms worse, and people with diabetes are at greater risk for severe infection from Covid.
However, the findings here highlight that Covid may contribute to the onset of a new diabetes diagnosis in kids under 18—no matter the disease severity.
The increases in diabetes were seen both in those who were symptomatic and in those who were asymptomatic and tested positive.
How Covid could lead to diabetes
As for how diabetes can be attributed to Covid? Researchers posit that Covid might directly attack the cells of the pancreas that express receptors called angiotensin converting enzyme 2, (ACE2), which is part of the mechanism that protects the body against diabetes. The SARS-CoV-2 virus uses ACE2 cells throughout the body as an entry point for infection. Another potential contributor could be stress hyperglycemia as a result of the cytokine storm seen in infection, or it could be a result of more general changes in glucose metabolism caused by infection.
Additionally, the authors note, a percentage of these cases likely occurred in people with pre-existing prediabetes, which affects one in five adolescents in the U.S. It’s possible that Covid infection could incite a change from prediabetes to diabetes.
Symptoms of diabetes onset in kids
If your child has recovered from a symptomatic or asymptomatic Covid infection, it’s important to be aware of diabetes symptoms and keep a watchful eye so that you can pursue an accurate diagnosis if necessary.
Symptoms of diabetes in kids may include:
- Increased thirst
- Frequent urination (including new urination accidents or bedwetting outside of the potty-training years)
- Extreme hunger
- Unintentional weight loss
- Breath that smells fruity
A note from Motherly
We know this information is worrying, but now that vaccines are available for kids age 5 and up, they could drastically change the picture of diabetes onset after Covid infection. While the current study looked at the period before vaccines were available for kids, we’ll need future large-scale studies to examine how vaccination plays a role in diabetes risk.
Until then, vaccinating your children aged 5 and up—and getting boosters for those who are eligible—is the best way to mitigate the risk of Covid infection.
Barrett CE, Koyama AK, Alvarez P, et al. Risk for Newly Diagnosed Diabetes >30 Days After SARS-CoV-2 Infection Among Persons Aged <18 years — United States, March 1, 2020–June 28, 2021. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. ePub: 7 January 2022. doi: 10.15585/mmwr.mm7102e2
Gheblawi M, Wang K, Viveiros A, Nguyen Q, Zhong JC, Turner AJ, Raizada MK, Grant MB, Oudit GY. Angiotensin-converting enzyme 2: SARS-CoV-2 receptor and regulator of the renin-angiotensin system: celebrating the 20th anniversary of the discovery of ACE2. Circulation research. 2020 May 8;126(10):1456-74. doi:10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.120.317015
Sathish T, Kapoor N, Cao Y, Tapp RJ, Zimmet P. Proportion of newly diagnosed diabetes in COVID-19 patients: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Diabetes Obes Metab 2021;23:870–4. doi:10.1111/dom.14269