Published on 17 July 2023

Recent study finds more new cases of type 1 diabetes were diagnosed following the Covid-19 pandemic.

Researchers comparing the incidence rates of type 1 diabetes diagnoses in young people during and before the Covid-19 pandemic have found there was a rise in new cases of the condition in this period.

The research was carried out by scientists at the University of Toronto who said that  regardless of the cause of the rise in cases, more resources and support may be needed for the growing number of children and adolescents affected by type 1 diabetes.

The results of 42 studies carried out on 102,984 young people aged under 19 over a year period before and a year period after the Covid-19 pandemic were recently published in JAMA Network Open.

It was reported that the incidence rate of type 1 diabetes was higher during the pandemic in 2020 (32.39 per 100 000 children) compared with the same period prior to the pandemic in 2019 (19.73 per 100 000 children).

In addition to finding out a change in the incidence rate of diabetes in young people during and before the Covid-19 pandemic, researchers also discovered a change in the incidence rate of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA - a serious problem that can happen in people living with diabetes if their body starts to run out of insulin) among youths with new-onset diabetes during the pandemic.

A man wearing a face mask on public transport

Researchers concluded: “Our systematic review adds important new information because it included studies that examined the incidence of both types 1 and 2 diabetes in children and adolescents, included additional data from later in the pandemic, and required at least 12 months of observation in both the pandemic and the pre-pandemic periods to account for the pre-pandemic seasonality of diabetes incidence and changes in seasonality during the pandemic that differed between Europe and North America.

“There appears to have been a disruption to the historic seasonal pattern of autoantibody-positive diabetes incidence in children. The reasons for this remain uncertain but may be related to the effects of Covid-19 containment strategies, such as lockdowns, both at the beginning of the pandemic and at subsequent times in different countries.

“We found an increased incidence rate of DKA at diabetes diagnosis among children and adolescents during the pandemic. This is concerning because DKA is preventable and an important cause of morbidity and mortality and is associated with long-term poor glycaemic management

“There is concern about widespread negative consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic for child and adolescent health inequities. However, relatively few studies examining changes in the incidence rate of paediatric diabetes since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic have reported the socioeconomic status, race, or ethnicity of the study population. Such information would elucidate whether health disparities in the incidence rates of diabetes and DKA widened during the pandemic.

“Our findings underscore the need to dedicate resources to supporting an acute increased need for paediatric and ultimately young adult diabetes care and strategies to prevent DKA in patients with new-onset diabetes.”

Professor May Ng OBE, Honorary Professor at Edge Hill University, Honorary Associate Professor at University of Liverpool and Consultant Paediatrician and Paediatric Endocrinologist, Associate Medical Director Specialist Services CBU at Mersey and West Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “We have seen similar rises in type 1 diabetes incidence in children in the UK.

“The population-based study found an increase in the observed versus expected incidence of type 1 diabetes in children and adolescents during the Covid-19 pandemic. While further research is needed to understand the reasons for the increased incidence of type 1 diabetes.

“It is important to have timely recognition of type 1 diabetes and to seek medical attention quickly if you suspect type 1 diabetes in your child. Signs can include being very thirsty, frequent urination, losing weight while appetite is good, being very tired or weak, nausea and vomiting.”

Read the report in JAMA Network Open
Read more about type 1 diabetes

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