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BSI response to study on new-onset type 1 diabetes in children during COVID-19

18 August 2020

A study published today in the journal, Diabetes Care, reports on the number of new-onset type 1 diabetes cases reports in children in a population in London during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In response, the British Society for Immunology has released the following statement. 

Prof Deborah Dunn-Walters, Chair of the British Society for Immunology taskforce on COVID-19 and Immunology, and Professor of Immunology at the University of Surrey, said:

“Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues in the pancreas, meaning that the body can no longer produce insulin, the hormone that regulates blood glucose levels. This paper reports an increase in the number of type 1 diabetes cases in children in part of London during the months of April and May compared with previous years. As not all children in the study were tested for COVID-19, the findings do not show that this increase was linked to the COVID-19 pandemic – in fact, it is currently unclear what was behind this rise in cases.

“COVID-19 is caused by the virus, SARS-CoV-2, and we know that other viral diseases can act as a trigger for some autoimmune diseases, such as Guillain-Barre syndrome. As SARS-CoV-2 is such a new virus, there is still much we need to learn about how it interacts with our immune systems and the long-term effects that it might have on us. Currently, there have been no comprehensive studies published linking COVID-19 to the development of any autoimmune disease, including type 1 diabetes. However, we are still in the early days of finding out about the longer-term effects of COVID-19 and follow-up studies in this area will be important. As the British Society for Immunology recent report recommended, large scale cohort studies and research programmes to track long-term health consequences in COVID-19 patients from all demographics over a number of years are now urgently needed so that we can properly assess any longer-term health risks due to COVID-19 infection.”

Read the full paper that this statement is in response to: Unsworth et al. 2020 New-onset type 1 diabetes in children during Covid-19: multi-centre regional findings in the UK. Diabetes Care doi:10.2337/dc20-1551

Read the full British Society for Immunology report on 'Long-term immunological health consequences of COVID-19