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One in 20 new diabetes cases could be linked to COVID, research shows

As many as one in 20 new diabetes cases could be linked to COVID infection, a large study has concluded.

Canadian researchers analysed records from almost 630,000 people between January 2020 and December 2021 and found a significantly higher rate of incident diabetes in those who had PCR-confirmed COVID-19.

They estimated that 3-5% of new diabetes diagnoses overall were attributable to the infection.

It comes as an analysis from Diabetes UK suggests that the number of people with the condition in the UK has topped five million for the first time.

Figures show an increase of 148,951 cases in the country in 2021-22, bringing the total to 4.3 million, with an additional 850,000 people estimated to have the condition but be unaware of it.


Increased diabetes risk


The Canadian analysis, published in JAMA Network Open this week (April 18), found that those who were hospitalised with COVID-19 appeared to be at greatest risk.

Overall in the general population, the association between Sars-CoV-2 infection and diabetes risk was only significant in men.

The researchers said that their findings “suggest that COVID-19 infection may continue to be associated with outcomes in organ systems involved in regulating blood glucose in the postacute phase and so may have contributed to the 3% to 5% of excess incident diabetes cases found in this study”.

Read more: Boots unveils plans to pilot private diabetes screening service

They noted that their findings were consistent with several other studies that had also found an increased risk of diabetes after COVID-19 infection but others had found even higher rates.

The underlying mechanism explaining the link between the two is not well understood but there may be multiple interacting processes that may impact the beta cells in the pancreas but also chronic low-grade inflammation, they said.

Read more: Candy crush? Diabetes has become the illness of our age

“Our study highlights the importance of health agencies and clinicians being aware of the potential long-term consequences of COVID-19 and monitoring people after COVID-19 infection for new-onset diabetes for timely diagnosis and treatment.”

Study author Dr Naveed Janjua told C+D that further studies are needed to assess the mechanism behind the relationship between COVID-19 and an increased risk of diabetes.

These should explore “whether it’s the direct effect of virus on insulin producing cells in pancreas or inflammation and immune response related to infection”, he said.


“Rapidly escalating diabetes crisis”


In its report, published last week (April 13), Diabetes UK said it had concerns that high rates of overweight and obesity in the UK was fuelling the increase in cases.

Social deprivation was also a factor, it added, with type 2 diabetes becoming increasingly common in those under the age of 40 years.

Read more: Some midlands pharmacies handing out info packs in diabetes awareness month

The charity’s chief executive Chris Askew said the latest figures show that “we’re in the grip of a rapidly escalating diabetes crisis, with spiralling numbers of people now living with type 2 diabetes and millions at high risk of developing the condition”. 

But he added that “it doesn’t have to be this way” as “with the right care and support, cases of type 2 diabetes can be prevented or put into remission”.

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