Doctor investigates diabetes link to COVID in children

King George Hospital Ilford and Queen’s Hospital Romford saw “an unusual pattern” of “very unwell” children needing emergency treatment for diabetes during COVID-19’s first wave.

Evidence from the first wave of COVID-19 suggests mild or symptomless infections may trigger type 1 diabetes in children, making them “significantly sicker” than those diagnosed pre-COVID.

Dr Caroline Ponmani

King George Hospital and Queen’s Hospital consultant Caroline Ponmani says that, during July last year, two or three children were attending A&E after contracting diabetes every week.

She said their presentation was “quite unlike the natural course” of diabetes and many had “diabetic ketoacidosis” (DKA), in which harmful substances build up as the body runs out of insulin.

She said: “These children were very unwell… We found a significant increase in the proportion of children with DKA during 2020 when compared to the previous four years.

“Our emergency department at BHRUT is exposed to a wide range of illnesses (so) the signal was most obvious here.

“We are very lucky to have wonderful doctors, nurses and other health professionals here at our trust. We are also so grateful to our patients and families, who contributed and allowed us to learn from their experiences.”

Dr Ponmani noted that the increased severity of diabetes in children did not appear to be linked to a delay in seeking medical help. 

She carried out her first study in last July with the help of 12 other paediatric units in the south-east of England and has now been chosen to lead a UK-wide investigation.

The study will examine existing patient data in the 12 months up to March this year in order to look at how numbers fluctuated in different waves of the pandemic. 

It was discovered early in the pandemic that those with diabetes were more likely to suffer severe cases of COVID-19.

It is thought that the link between the two may be because both diabetes and COVID-19 can lead to inflammation, particularly in blood vessels.

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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter