Still think it’s no big deal for kids to get Covid-19? Well, there’s mounting evidence that Covid-19 could hit you right in the pancreas. And a study just published as a Research Letter in JAMA network promoted the possibility that Covid-19 could somehow lead to type 1 diabetes. Because type 1 diabetes develops when the beta islet cells in your pancreas can’t produce enough insulin, this research letter is a beta mail, so to speak. It adds to growing concerns that severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), or your immune system’s response to the virus, could potentially affect islet beta cells.
Now, insulin is a pretty darn important hormone that helps regulate your blood sugar levels. Insufficient insulin production can lead to high blood sugar levels, which can damage the heart, blood vessels, nerves, eyes and kidneys. These not-too-sweet complications can be severely disabling and even life-threatening. This video from Diabetes UK describes type 1 diabetes in about two minutes:
So you have to take any increase in the rate of new type 1 diagnoses seriously. There have already been a number of reasons to take Covid-19 seriously in children, but several studies were published in 2022 that also raised concerns about type 1 diabetes. For example, a research letter published in January 24, 2022 JAMA Pediatrics reported a 57 percent increase in new type 1 diabetes diagnoses in children in the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic compared to the previous year. Then a study published in PLoS ONE on April 19, 2022 found that those who had SARS-CoV-2 infection were 42% more likely to have such a new diagnosis than those who did not have such infection.
That brings us to this latest study, conducted by a team from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine (Ellen K. Kendall, Veronica R. Olaker, Rong Xu, PhD, and Pamela B. Davis, MD, PhD) and MetroHealth System (David C. Kaelber, MD, PhD) in Cleveland, Ohio analyzed data from the TriNetX Analytics Platform. This platform includes the electronic health records of over 90 million patients from 74 major healthcare organizations in all 50 US states and 14 different countries. Therefore, the TriNetX platform can provide some X-tra large sample sizes.
On this platform, the research team identified 571,256 patients aged 18 years or younger: 285,628 of them had Covid-19 between March 2020 and December 2021 and 285,628 matched patients who did not have respiratory infections but not Covid-19 im same period. One month after being diagnosed with Covid-19, patients were 96% more likely to be newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes than those who just had a non-Covid-19 respiratory infection. This increased up to 110% more likely three months after Covid-19 diagnosis and 83% more likely six months after Covid-19 diagnosis. Six months after Covid-19 diagnosis, 0.043% (123 patients) were newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, which is about 72% more than the 0.025% (72 patients) who only had non-Covid-19 infections Respiratory tract.
Of course that JAMA network open The research letter did not provide an open and closed case for the possibility of the islet beta cells. After all, it was an observational cohort study that can only show connections and not cause-effect. Also, keep in mind that electronic medical records do not necessarily show everything that is going on with a patient. You’ve probably heard that the number of pirates on the seas has decreased just because global warming has occurred over the same period. That doesn’t mean training pirates is a way to reverse global warming. That would be an “arrrgh” false conclusion. Likewise, more studies are needed to determine whether SARS-CoV-2 infections really did cause type 1 diabetes.
Nevertheless, such a cause-and-effect situation could well be possible. Keep in mind that SARS-CoV-2 is still a relatively new virus. Scientists still don’t know what it can do to your body. SARS-CoV-2 infection is not like makeup or plastic surgery. Its effects may not be so obvious. And usually you can’t see body parts like your pancreas in your mirror. (If you can, call your doctor right away.) When it first encounters a virus, your immune system can behave like a virgin on a date for the first time, trying all sorts of random things without realizing the damage it’s doing . That is why a Covid-19 vaccination can also be helpful for children. It can help your immune system get used to the spike protein, a key component of SARS-CoV-2, in a controlled manner. That way, your immune system may be less likely to attack parts of your own body like your islet beta cells. In other words, your immune system can beta know what it’s doing.