When their 11-year-old son started losing weight and drinking lots of water, Tabitha and Bryan Balcitis chalked it up to a growth spurt and advice from his health class. But unusual crankiness and lethargy raised their concern, and tests showed his blood sugar levels were off the charts.
Just six months after a mild case of COVID-19, the Crown Point, Indiana, boy was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. His parents were floored — it didn't run in the family, but autoimmune illness did and doctors said that could be a factor.
Could his diabetes also be linked with the coronavirus, wondered Nolan's mom, a respiratory therapist. Turns out scientists in the U.S. and elsewhere are asking the same question and investigating whether any connection is more than a coincidence.
It's clear that in those who already have diabetes, COVID-19 can worsen the condition and lead to severe complications. But there are other possible links.
Emerging evidence shows that the coronavirus — like some other viruses — can attack insulin-producing cells in the pancreas — a process that might trigger at least temporary diabetes in susceptible people. Rising cases might also reflect circumstances involving pandemic restrictions, including delayed medical care for early signs of diabetes or unhealthy eating habits and inactivity in people already at risk for Type 2 diabetes.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report looked at two large U.S. insurance databases that included new diabetes cases from March 2020 through June 2021. Diabetes was substantially more common in kids who'd had COVID-19. The report didn't distinguish between Type 1, which typically starts in childhood, and Type 2, the kind tied to obesity.
Rates of both types of diabetes have risen in U.S. kids in recent years, but reports from Europe and some U.S. hospitals suggest the pace may have accelerated during the pandemic.