Juvenile type 1 diabetes associated with COVID-19 infection in children, CWRU study finds

CLEVELAND, Ohio — An analysis of the electronic medical records of over 1 million children worldwide suggests that COVID-19 infection could make children more vulnerable to developing type 1 diabetes, researchers at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine say .

The study found that the number of type 1 diabetes diagnoses in people under the age of 18 increased by 72% in the six months following a confirmed case of COVID-19 compared to children with another type of respiratory infection.

Unlike type 2 diabetes, which is the result of decreased insulin sensitivity and occurs primarily in adults, type 1 diabetes is more commonly diagnosed in children and occurs when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.

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“Type 1 diabetes is considered an autoimmune disease,” said Pamela Davis, professor of medicine at the CWRU School of Medicine and one of the authors of the study. “COVID has been suggested to amplify autoimmune responses, and our current results reinforce that suggestion.”

Age did not play a role in the results. Diabetes risk in younger children from birth to age 9 was similar to that in older children, ages 10 to 18.

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“Families with a high risk of type 1 diabetes in their children should be particularly vigilant for post-COVID diabetes symptoms, and pediatricians should be vigilant for an influx of new cases of type 1 diabetes, particularly as the Omicron variant of COVID it’s spreading so quickly among them kids,” Davis said.

“We could see a significant increase in this disease in the coming months to years. Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong challenge for those who have it, and increased incidence means it affects a significant number of children.”

More research is needed to determine which children are most vulnerable, whether the increased risk of diabetes persists beyond 6 months, and how to manage COVID-19-associated type 1 diabetes in children, said co-author Rong Xu, CWRU- Professor of Biomedical Informatics.

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“We are also investigating possible changes in the development of type 2 diabetes in children after SARS-CoV2 infection,” Xu said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 187,000 people under the age of 20 are living with type 1 diabetes nationwide.

The conclusions were published on Friday Journal of the American Medical Association Network Open.