Global research consortium examines whether COVID-19 can cause diabetes

Global research consortium examines whether COVID-19 can cause diabetes

Since Craig Spanza, a resident of Metro Vancouver, was infected with COVID-19 at work last March, he has battled a myriad of long-term sequelae, including debilitating brain fog, exhaustion and shortness of breath.

But Spanza, 49, was also faced with a new diagnosis that has come quite unexpectedly since he became ill: rapid-onset type 2 diabetes.

“It really feels like it was triggered by COVID,” Spanza said. “The doctor said I was off the charts for random blood sugar tests.”

Spanza is not alone. Around the world, doctors treating people recovering from COVID-19 have noticed that some of their patients were diagnosed with diabetes soon after contracting the virus.

It is well established that diabetes is likely to lead to worse results for those who contract COVID-19.

Now, an international consortium of researchers is trying to find out if the new coronavirus can also cause diabetes in some people. The project is a joint initiative of King’s College London and Monash University in Australia.

Researchers are trying to establish how diabetes could develop in those who have contracted COVID-19.

Diabetes epidemic

Sathish Thirunavukkarasu, a researcher at the Population Health Research Institute at McMaster University, is the only Canadian researcher linked to the consortium.

People with diabetes should test their blood sugar levels throughout the day to make sure they are neither too high nor too low. (Africa Studio / Shutterstock)

“The burden of diabetes has certainly increased over the past decade,” he said on a video call from India, where he was visiting his family.

“So you really want to understand if COVID-19 could play a significant role in driving this diabetes epidemic. “

People with diabetes cannot produce insulin (usually called type 1 diabetes) or cannot properly use the insulin produced by the pancreas (also called type 2 diabetes).

Insulin regulates the amount of sugar in the blood to keep the body functioning properly. If left untreated, diabetes can cause kidney disease, heart disease, blindness, stroke, and even death.

Long-term studies are needed

Thirunavukkarasu says medical experts first discussed the potential link in a commentary in the New England Journal of Medicine Last year.

They are still trying to determine whether COVID-19 is causing type 1 or type 2 diabetes, or an entirely different type, although he says at this point that it mostly looks like type diabetes. 2.

SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has been shown to attack cells in the pancreas, according to Thirunavukkarasu, which may explain the link between the two diseases.

Metformin is a typical drug used to treat type 2 diabetes. Over 90 percent of diabetes cases are type 2. (Francis Dean / Corbis / Getty)

He points out that high blood sugar levels were also detected in some patients during the SARS epidemic in 2003, although in most of these cases this problem resolved itself after a few months.

“Long-term studies are needed to really understand whether diabetes (…) is transient or if it develops into diabetes over a long period,” he said.

Undiagnosed diabetes

Amanda Sterczyk, manager of health research and policy analysis at Diabetes Canada, says her organization is keep an eye on research.

“It will take several years of research to fully understand what is going on here,” she said.

Sterczyk says it’s important to note that many cases of diabetes go undiagnosed because some people have inadequate access to health care and others don’t know which one symptoms and warning signs to monitor.

Dr. Beth Cummings shared this poster from the International Diabetes Federation to help families remember the telltale symptoms of type 1 diabetes. (Submitted by Dr Beth Cummings)

Diabetes Canada estimates that there may be up to 1.5 million people in the country with undiagnosed diabetes.

Sterczyk says it’s possible that the sudden onset of diabetes in COVID-19 patients is due to these people interacting with the healthcare system and ultimately being diagnosed.

Measuring A1C

Thirunavukkarasu recognizes that it is possible.

He says a systematic review of studies found that of about 3,000 COVID-19 patients, about 14.4% who were hospitalized with the virus were first diagnosed with diabetes – but that figure includes people who had diabetes before contracting COVID-19 and had not yet been diagnosed.

One way to know if diabetes may not have been diagnosed before COVID-19 is to look at a patient’s condition. A1C test results, which measures the average blood sugar over the past three months.

Type 1 diabetes, also called insulin-dependent diabetes, is treated by injecting insulin because the body no longer produces it naturally. (Reed Saxon / The Associated Press)

Thirunavukkarasu says some people who develop diabetes after severe COVID-19 infection have normal A1C levels but high blood sugar levels in the short term, which would suggest they didn’t have diabetes before they got sick .

Researchers are currently looking at data that specifically includes A1C levels. Like Sterczyk, he says more research is needed.

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