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Infectious Diseases

Updated 23 June 2020

Covid-19: Experts worry that the virus is triggering diabetes in otherwise healthy people

A new global registry has been launched to gather data about the relationship between diabetes and the deadly coronavirus.

  • A new global registry - CoviDiab - has launched and it aims to collect data on the relationship between diabetes and Covid-19
  • In a letter, researchers are seeing a trend that the coronavirus may be triggering new-onset diabetes or increase the risk of getting it.
  • Many Covid-19 deaths have been recorded among those who have diabetes. 

One of the groups most affected by the current Covid-19 pandemic is diabetics - they have some of the highest risks of severe complications when contracting Covid-19.

A French study found that 10% of older Covid-19 patients who have diabetes, die within a week of entering the hospital, and 20% need a ventilator to breathe by that point. In the Western Cape alone, 52 out of 100 deaths due to the coronavirus were attributed to diabetics, according to the province's health department.

READ | 1 in 10 older patients with diabetes, dies within first week of hospitalisation for Covid-19 - study

However, researchers from around the world are noticing another worrying trend - that Covid-19 could trigger diabetes in people who have no diagnosed pre-existing conditions.

In a letter published in The New England Journal of Medicine, a group of international researchers highlight a dangerous two-way relationship between Covid-19 and diabetes. 

Diabetes puts you at high risk of severe Covid-19 symptoms, and contracting the coronavirus sometimes leads to new-onset diabetes and triggers severe diabetes complications in those who already have the condition. 

The reason why the two interact so intensely is that the virus binds with ACE2 receptors, which are found in key metabolic organs and tissues in the human body, such as the kidneys, pancreatic beta cells and small intestine. 

"Thus, it is plausible that SARS-CoV-2 may cause pleiotropic alterations of glucose metabolism that could complicate the pathophysiology of pre-existing diabetes or lead to new mechanisms of disease," say the researchers. 

However, not enough research has been done to understand this connection, including how frequent the new-onset diabetes is, if it's type 1 or type 2 diabetes or something new altogether, and what it means for a patient's risk of diabetes in the future. 

It may also be changing the pathology of those who already have diabetes.

ALSO READ | Obesity biggest type 2 diabetes risk factor

New global registry

To gain more insight, King's College London and Monash University have teamed up to launch the registry CoviDiab. It's a database where doctors and researchers around the world can input their observations regarding diabetes and Covid-19, specifically focusing on cases where coronavirus patients develop the condition.

"Given the very short history of human contact with Covid-19, this registry will rapidly help us understand how Covid-19-related diabetes develops, its natural history and its best management," explains the registry's website. 

"Studying Covid-19-related diabetes may also uncover novel mechanisms of disease."

The results of the research could help improve patient care in the fight against the disease and lead to new and better treatment.

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