There is disturbing news about those infected with the COVID-19 virus. New studies have found that the virus can cause diabetes in addition to pneumonia and other health problems.
Most people will recover from COVID without long-term problems, but doctors have noticed that some patients continue to develop diabetes.
Now, a new study finds that the virus can infect and destroy certain cells that are crucial to maintaining diabetes. Armed with this new knowledge, scientists are now vying to figure out how best to prevent this in patients with COVID-19.
Diabetes already accounts for 10-15% of deaths in the United States. In 2017, nearly 34.2 million people, or 1
“There is a difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes,” said Dr. Jennifer Ashton, ABC News’s chief medical correspondent and OBGYN-certified, who was not involved in the study. “[In] type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce enough insulin. Type 2 has enough insulin, but it doesn’t work properly. “
Because insulin causes cells to absorb blood sugar, reduced insulin production or insulin resistance causes high levels of sugar or glucose in the blood. This high level of glucose, called hyperglycemia, is a hallmark of diabetes.
“Earlier laboratory studies suggested this [the COVID-19 virus] it can infect human beta cells, “said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, in a recent blog post. “They also showed that the dangerous virus can replicate in these insulin-producing beta cells to make more copies of itself and spread to other cells.”
A new study from Stanford University School of Medicine and Weill Cornell Medicine has confirmed the link between COVID-19 and diabetes. By analyzing autopsy samples from people who died of COVID-19, both studies illustrate the virus’s ability to infect pancreatic beta cells, reduce insulin secretion, and effectively treat type 1 diabetes.
“The virus actually destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin,” Ashton said. “[This] lowers insulin levels and then leads directly to high sugar and type 1 diabetes. ‘
Experts say these specific cells may be particularly vulnerable to virus attack because they contain certain receptors that are known to bind to COVID-19.
Once attacked, these cells transform into different cell types with lower insulin expression. According to experts, this shows that SARS-CoV-2 can change the fate of the cell.
Encouragingly, one study showed that specific drugs could reverse this fate. These findings will need to be confirmed in larger and more rigorous studies, the researchers said.
Unfortunately, the virus can damage the pancreas and cause diabetes in ways that are not so easily overcome with medication. Due to the destruction of pancreatic cells, patients can potentially become addicted to diabetes drugs, such as insulin, long after they end their battle with COVID-19.
“More research is needed to understand how SARS-CoV-2 reaches the pancreas and what role the immune system may play as a result of the damage,” Collins said.
Both studies highlight the possibility of COVID-19-induced diabetes and emphasize the need for awareness among those infected with the virus.
“The key is, if you’re diagnosed with COVID-19 and have some classic signs or symptoms of type 1 diabetes, get tested for diabetes,” Ashton said.
Anyone recovering from COVID-19 should watch for symptoms of diabetes, Ashton added.
“We are talking about extreme thirst and increased urination, involuntary, significant weight loss or fatigue, just to name a few,” she said.
Added Collins: “This work provides another reminder of the importance of protecting yourself, your family and your community from COVID-19 by vaccinating, if you haven’t already – and encouraging your loved ones to do the same.”
Dr. Natalie S. Rosen is an internal medicine physician at Johns Hopkins Hospital and an associate of the Medical Unit of ABC News.