The coronavirus pandemic has represented a particular challenge for children – on the one hand, for their psyches and, on the other, for their bodies. There are increasing rates of type 1 diabetes, especially among young children. A study carried out in Germany now shows a possible link with Sars-CoV-2.
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Type 1 diabetes has nothing to do with being overweight or poor diet – instead, the risk is partly inherited, but environmental factors also play a role. Viral infections, including Covid, have long been suspected. According to the new study, the risk of diabetes increases after a Sars-CoV-2 infection, the greatest increase was observed in one-year-old children, says study author and immunologist Ezio Bonifacio from the Technical University of Dresden.
Two hypotheses for the mechanism
He and his team have several hypotheses about the reasons: on the one hand, Sars-CoV-2 can latch directly onto insulin-producing cells in the pancreas and destroy them. But it can also be a result of inflammation. “This inflammation is very strong and therefore increases the risk of overactivation of the immune system,” Bonifacio told Ö1. Additionally, the body can also have a stress reaction.
For the study, doctors examined nearly 900 children who were at a slightly increased risk of diabetes. Sars-CoV-2 is not the only virus that can trigger autoimmune diseases in children. However, the immunologist considers Corona separately because it can infect many different cells in the body, not just lung cells. “Some compare Corona to the flu, but that’s not true”, says the immunologist. Covid is therefore referred to as a systemic rather than a pure respiratory disease.
A total of 2,700 children and young people in Austria are affected by type 1 diabetes. According to the Austrian Diabetes Society, the numbers have been rising steadily for several years, with a slightly higher increase in 2021. The link to Covid needs to be analyzed in more detail, according to the specialized society.
Elke Ziegler, Ö1 Science