The potential link between type 1 diabetes and COVID-19 is being investigated in a new study that has just been launched in Northern Ireland.
The research is being carried out by the Southern Health Trust after a consultant paediatrician there said she had noticed a significant increase in young people being diagnosed since the pandemic began.
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Dr Sarinda Millar said: “We are definitely seeing more new cases of type 1 diabetes in children compared to previous years. For example, in just one week in January we had nine new cases from our trust area alone. We are also finding that more new patients are presenting sicker in diabetic ketoacidosis, which can be life threatening if not treated quickly.
“The cause of type 1 diabetes is not yet fully understood but is likely to include a variety of environmental and genetic reasons. Viruses are also felt to play a role and there have been some initial studies exploring a potential link between COVID-19 and type 1 diabetes. We are currently embarking on our own research to explore if exposure to COVID-19 increases your risk of developing type 1 diabetes.”
Diet and lifestyle play no role in the development of type 1 diabetes, which is a completely different condition to type 2, which can be controlled by a healthier lifestyle.
The research will involve looking to see whether the newly diagnosed children had been exposed to COVID-19 by investigating their antibody status, as this will help better understand where there is an association between the two conditions.
Students Beth McDaniel and Ellen Watson, both have type 1 diabetes and became overnight stars on the social media platform TikTok when viewers noticed their FreeStyle Libre on their arms.
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Known as the Diabetic Duo, the 21-year-olds are using their new-found fame to spread awareness about the condition.
Speaking to BBC News Ellen said lockdown has impacted people with type 1 diabetes.
She said: “We weren’t going out as much at the start on walks or taking exercise. It was a whole change to lifestyle and with things like diabetes that really effects your blood sugar levels so you have to get a brand-new routine and you maybe have to change your carb-counting ratios.”
Beth added: “We are working from home 9-5 five days a week. So our lives have become very stagnant and static. As you can imagine our sugars and our readings have changed drastically. At the minute we are used to our new routine. But when we get this road map and start to come out of this it will be a shock to the system again.”