The claim: Doctors warn COVID-19 may trigger diabetes in otherwise healthy people
ScienceAlert, an independent online site covering scientific research, posted an essay that Julian Hamilton-Shield, of the University of Bristol, wrote for The Conversation, exploring the possibility that "COVID-19 is not just a risk for people with diabetes — it may actually cause diabetes."
People with diabetes — a disease of the pancreas that limits the body’s ability to process blood glucose — run an increased risk of dying from COVID-19, the disease the coronavirus causes.
But COVID-19 also could be causing diabetes, wrote Hamilton-Shield, a professor of diabetes and metabolic endocrinology.
What are scientists finding?
Hamilton-Shield in his essay pointed to a new case report about a young man in China, previously in good health, who he said developed "new-onset, severe diabetes" after contracting COVID-19.
He wrote that similar situations were reported in East Asia, which experienced a severe outbreak of acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, which also was caused by a coronavirus,. "There were documented cases of acute onset diabetes in people with (SARS) pneumonia, which was not seen in those with pneumonia of other causes. In most cases, the diabetes resolved after three years, but it persisted in 10% of patients."
More:Coronavirus, diabetes, obesity and other underlying conditions: Which patients are most at risk?
Hamilton-Shield wrote that coronaviruses that caused the current and previous outbreaks share a similar way of getting into cells. "The now-familiar protein spikes on the surface of the virus attach to ACE2 receptors that are abundant in lung, kidney and islet cells in the pancreas."
"It is proposed that once in islets, COVID-19 disrupts normal cell function leading to abnormalities in the pathways that maintain blood glucose through insulin secretion. It is also possible that cell invasion leads to acute inflammation that kills islet cells," he wrote.
More:Fact check: What's true and what's false about coronavirus?
Other scientists concur
In a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine this month, an international group of scientists and doctors said they had established a registry to collect information on people with COVID-19-related diabetes.
"There is a bidirectional relationship between COVID-19 and diabetes," the letter starts. "On the one hand, diabetes is associated with an increased risk of severe Covid-19. On the other hand, new-onset diabetes and severe metabolic complications of preexisting diabetes, including diabetic ketoacidosis and hyperosmolarity for which exceptionally high doses of insulin are warranted, have been observed in patients with COVID-19."
The scientists cite three studies from this spring that examine a link between COVID-19 and diabetes.
More:COVID-19 far more dangerous for patients with heart disease or diabetes, CDC says
Similarly, Nature reported on June 12 that Paul Zimmet, who studies diabetes at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, is another researcher who sees this connection.
“Diabetes itself is a pandemic just like the COVID-19 pandemic. The two pandemics could be clashing,” he told Nature.
Shuibing Chen, a stem-cell biologist at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City, told Nature that the novel coronavirus may directly attack the cells involved in diabetes or may cause an immune response that destroys them.
More:You're not 'too busy' to stay active during quarantine: Health experts worry about blood clots, weight gain
Our ruling: True
The claim that COVID-19 may cause diabetes in otherwise healthy people is TRUE, based on our reporting. Scientists around the globe are now researching the connection, and creating a registry to track similar cases.
Our fact-check sources:ScienceAlert.comThe Conversation, including sources Julian Hamilton-Shield identified in his essay: New England Journal of Medicine letter from doctors and researchers; COVID-19-related diabetes case report.Nature: "Mounting clues suggest the coronavirus might trigger diabetes"U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Expanded list of people at risk of severe COVID-19 illness
Donnelle Eller covers agriculture, the environment and energy for the Register. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 515-284-8457.
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