Coronavirus could trigger sugar disorders in patients with no history of diabetes, according to experts

Is 'COVID-19 Diabetes' a new form of diabetes?

                            Coronavirus could trigger sugar disorders in patients with no history of diabetes, according to experts
(Getty Images)

A middle-aged Covid-19 patient caught the attention of experts by showing uncommon complications – high blood sugar levels, and excessive thirst and urination. His case led doctors to develop a hunch: coronavirus could be triggering diabetes in patients with absolutely no history of the sugar disorder.

The idea began gaining traction elsewhere. Dr. Robert H. Eckel from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus told MEA WorldWide (MEAWW) that he has heard of such reports from several endocrinologists and physicians from the US and abroad. Jeffrey Mechanick, a professor of medicine at Mount Sinai, told Popular Science that there was anecdotal evidence in New York, linking Covid-19 with new cases of diabetes.

Until recently, doctors noted that Covid-19 was harsh on people with diabetes. One study said that 10% of patients with the condition die within seven days of hospitalization. At the same time, doctors started noticing new cases of diabetes, including life-threatening ones, emerging in infected patients.  

These developments, according to Dr. Eckel, have raised a question: is COVID-19 diabetes a new form of diabetes? Type 1 and 2 diabetes results when the hormone insulin – which brings down blood sugar levels – fails to do its job.

Experts do not yet understand how Covid-19 gives rise to diabetes. "Given the short period of human contact with this new coronavirus, the exact mechanism by which the virus influences glucose metabolism is still unclear," Francesco Rubino, Professor of Metabolic Surgery at King’s College London, said.

But they have a theory: the virus could dock into cells responsible for maintaining normal glucose levels. “The virus binds to a protein that is called (the) ACE2 receptor and this protein is basically like a keyhole for the virus to enter the cell,” Rubino told Popular Science. These proteins are present in the pancreas, fat tissue, small intestine, liver and kidneys. “All (these organs) play a critical role in sugar metabolism,” he adds.

Doctors speculate that Covid-19 can trigger diabetes. (Getty Images)


Other viruses also appear to induce diabetes. These include mumps, enterovirus, and the SARS virus – a relative of the new coronavirus. However, most people who survived SARS recovered from the sugar disorder within three years, but 10 per cent did not.

There are a lot of questions that need answering, from understanding the prevalence of new cases of diabetes in Covid-19 patients to figuring out why insulin stops doing its job, and if blood sugar levels return to normal after recovery from the infection. 

To answer these questions, Rubino and several experts, are putting together a global registry of new cases of diabetes in Covid-19 patients. This is a good start in addressing inquiries, Eckel, who is a part of the group, explained.

Paul Zimmet, Professor of Diabetes at Monash University in Melbourne, Honorary President of the International Diabetes Federation, who is also a part of the project, said: “We don’t yet know the magnitude of new-onset diabetes in Covid-19 and if it will persist or resolve after the infection; and if so, whether or not or COVID-19 increases risk of future diabetes. By establishing this Global Registry, we are calling on the international medical community to rapidly share relevant clinical observations that can help answer these questions.”

Until then, experts recommend looking out for diabetes symptoms such as intense thirst, frequent bathroom breaks, confusion, blurred vision, and extreme fatigue. If someone has any of these symptoms, “they should seek medical attention sooner rather than later,” Rubino told Popular Science.

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