Coronavirus infection could be causing patients to develop diabetes, research published in science journal Nature last week said.
Diabetes has already been identified as a key pre-existing condition for those that become infected with COVID-19, with diabetics potentially at double the risk of dying from the virus.
However, the report published by Nature now suggests that researchers believe the coronavirus could be causing patients to develop diabetes – even after successfully recovering from the virus.
“Diabetes itself is a pandemic just like the COVID-19 pandemic. The two pandemics could be clashing,“ Paul Zimmet, a researcher into metabolic disease at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia told Nature.
The report pointed to several different factors that could demonstrate a relationship between COVID-19 and diabetes. In particular, Nature noted that a large number of patients admitted to hospital with coronavirus also had extremely high levels of blood sugar and ketones – a chemical produced when the body does not have enough insulin to break down sugar, which is a central problem for those suffering from diabetes.
““In science, sometimes you have to start off with very small evidence to chase a hypothesis,” Zimmet added.
In addition, an earlier study on miniature lab-grown pancreases suggested that the coronavirus could be damaging the cells that control the body’s blood sugar, thus triggering diabetes, Nature reported.
The organs that control blood sugar also tend to be rich in ACE2, a protein, which COVID-19 has been shown to use to infect cells, the journal added.
One case, highlighted in the journal, was of an 18-year-old student in Germany who recovered from coronavirus with no ill effects, but days later reported feeling worn out and thirsty. The student was later diagnosed with a sudden onset of type 1 diabetes, with his physician suspecting a link to his recent recovery from COVID-19.
Not all scientists are convinced by the relationship between the two diseases, however.
“We need to keep an eye on diabetes rates in those with prior COVID-19, and determine if rates go up over and above expected levels,“ Naveed Sattar, a researcher into metabolic diseases at the University of Glasgow in the UK told Nature.
More research on a larger scale is needed to prove a link and explain how COVID-19 could cause diabetes, scientists added.