COVID-19 infection linked to a higher risk of diabetes

A Canadian study looking at more than 600,000 people has found a higher rate of new diabetes diagnoses in those who’d been infected with COVID-19.

The study, which is published in JAMA Network Open, suggests that COVID may be responsible for a 3% to 5% excess burden of diabetes at the population level.

The Canadian researchers drew on data from the British Columbia COVID-19 Cohort: a study that collected the health records of people tested for SARS-CoV-2 in the province from January 2020 to December 2021.

From this cohort, 125,987 people tested positive to COVID-19. The researchers matched each of these people with four unexposed people of the same age, sex, and test date.

This gave them a sample of 629,935 people, a fifth of whom had been infected with SARS-CoV-2.

They then went looking for incident diabetes – that is, a new diagnosis – more than 30 days after the COVID test.

The COVID-positive group had a rate of 672.2 new diabetes diagnoses per 100,000 people, significantly higher than the control group’s rate of 508.7 new diagnoses per 100,000.

This translates to roughly 3-5% extra diabetes cases at a population level, according to the researchers’ analysis.

“Our overall results were consistent with several other studies finding higher risk of incident diabetes after SARS-CoV-2 infection; however, the increase in risk was lower in our analysis compared with other studies,” they write in their paper.

They suggest a few differences in study populations for this discrepancy.

It’s not yet clear why there’s a link between COVID infection and diabetes.

In their paper, the researchers point out that SARS-CoV-2 has been shown to attack pancreatic cells which are involved with insulin production. Low-grade inflammation from COVID could also play a role. But these processes are still poorly understood.

“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,” conclude the researchers.

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