Doctor warns coronavirus may trigger onset of Type 1 diabetes in children

fran cogen
Dr. Fran Cogen in front of the Diabetes Care Complex at Children’s National Hospital. (Courtesy Children’s National Hospital)

A D.C. doctor who believes the coronavirus also may act as a trigger for Type 1 diabetes wants to alert parents to be aware of warning signs.

Type 1 diabetes can be triggered in people who are genetically predisposed to it if they’re exposed to certain viruses, such as a seasonal flu.

“Watch your child, be able to compare your child’s usual behavior to something new,” said Dr. Fran Cogen, director of the Childhood and Adolescent Diabetes Program at Children’s National Hospital.

Early warning signs of new-onset diabetes include hunger and eating, drinking and urinating more.

“If the kid is playing outside and keeps interrupting their play to go urinate, then that needs to be paid attention to,” Cogen said.

She also said younger children experiencing onset diabetes who were previously potty trained may suddenly start having accidents.

Another symptom is weight loss — and parents might not recognize it because Type 1 diabetes develops gradually as the body’s insulin production decreases.

“[Kids] are growing and it just appears visually that they’re taller, when in actuality when you weigh them there is a weight loss,” Cogen said.

More advanced cases can involve vomiting.

As for the potential of there being a connection between the novel coronavirus and new-onset diabetes?

“It’s not just the virus. You have to have a constellation of certain genes that makes you more susceptible. And then — think of it as a two-hit type thing — then the virus can trigger the response to develop antibodies against pancreatic islet cells,” Cogen said.

If an uptick in new-onset diabetes were to happen because of COVID-19, it’s not likely to be seen immediately.

After people genetically receptive to Type 1 diabetes are exposed to viruses, it can take a while for them to develop the antibodies that attack the pancreas cells that make insulin, which helps regulate blood sugar.

Still, Cogan is expecting to see a surge.

“I would not be surprised that in the next six months to a year that we see a lot more patients due to COVID,” she said.

People who already have diabetes are at higher risk of severe illness from coronavirus, according to the American Diabetes Association.

Related topics are being examined globally as noted in a New England Journal of Medicine correspondence, which states, “The study of COVID-19-related diabetes may also uncover novel mechanisms of disease.”

More Coronavirus news

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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