The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report indicating that children may be at an increased risk for developing diabetes after COVID‑19 infection. As more children get COVID‑19, parents may be concerned about these recent headlines and potential long-term health effects.
Soumya Adhikari, M.D., a pediatric endocrinologist at Children's Health℠ and Associate Professor at UT Southwestern, shares insights into what this report means and how parents can help keep their children healthy.
Can COVID‑19 cause diabetes in children?
This report from the CDC found some evidence that COVID‑19 infection may increase a child's risk for developing type 1 or type 2 diabetes. While it's important that parents are aware of the potential risk, Dr. Adhikari explains that this study is not definitive.
"The magnitude of the findings alone – a 2.5x increase in the risk of being diagnosed with diabetes after COVID – are worthy of further study," says Dr. Adhikari. "However, the report had some significant limitations that would be important to better understand how much of the risk was based on COVID‑19 infection in comparison to other risk factors."
Dr. Adhikari explains that the study is based on medical claims data, which is helpful for seeing trends but not ideal for significant conclusions. Additionally, the report did not account for obesity, medications or other underlying conditions, which are all important factors for consideration.
Why would COVID‑19 increase the risk of developing diabetes?
It has been suggested that the virus that causes COVID‑19 can directly attack beta cells, the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. What happens after the virus infects beta cells isn't completely understood yet.
"The concern is that the virus could directly destroy some beta cells or trigger an autoimmune response against beta cells," says Dr. Adhikari. Because of this, more studies are needed to carefully examine the link between COVID‑19 and diabetes.
Are children with pre-existing diabetes at increased risk for COVID‑19 illness?
As COVID‑19 spreads, we're continuing to learn more about the different variants and their behaviors. Experts do know that people with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes are at increased risk for severe COVID‑19 illness. "In general, people with diabetes are more likely to experience adverse outcomes from any viral infection in comparison to the general population," says Dr. Adhikari.
For children with diabetes, COVID‑19 increases the risk of developing diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a serious and potentially life-threatening complication of diabetes. However, children with diabetes rarely develop a severe respiratory illness due to lung inflammation itself from COVID‑19. This is different from adults with diabetes, who seem to develop more severe respiratory illness when faced with COVID‑19 and diabetes.
Monitoring your child after COVID‑19 infection
If your child had COVID‑19, it's important to monitor their health for any potential lasting effects and to contact their pediatrician with any concerns.
Dr. Adhikari says that this report serves as a reminder that all parents should be aware of the signs and symptoms of diabetes, and specifically, DKA. Early recognition of DKA can help reduce the risk of adverse outcomes when one is diagnosed with diabetes. Watch for any of these warning signs:
- Frequent urination
- Increased thirst
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rapid, deep breathing
- Unexplained weight loss
If you are concerned about symptoms in your child, talk to your pediatrician. You can ask to get your child's fasting blood glucose level and/or a spot urine sample checked. Both of these simple tests can go a long way for early detection of diabetes and minimize the risk of a new diagnosis being missed.
Lastly, Dr. Adhikari encourages parents to continue to take steps to reduce the risk of COVID‑19 infection, including getting vaccinated. "The diabetes story, when it comes to COVID‑19, is only beginning to be told," he says. "We will know more with each passing month for the next few years. For now, we can all take steps to minimize risk of COVID‑19 and COVID-related complications."
See more COVID-19 resources
Children's Health is committed to remaining a trusted source of health information and care for you and your family during this time. See more resources to keep your family healthy at the Children's Health COVID 19 hub.