A slew of new studies around life after COVID-19 infection emerged in the past few days, connecting COVID-19 with higher risks of long term neurological disorders, respiratory issues, and Type-1 diabetes.
We’re in a complicated season of the COVID-19 pandemic. While health officials struggle with messaging around prevention, and politicians are eager to call an end to the era, new data has been surging around the long term impacts of COVID-19. All year, we’ve been seeing reports about the uptick in type-1 diabetes among children who were first diagnosed with COVID-19. Today, the JAMA Network Online posted their latest update in a research letter that confirms higher levels of type-1 diabetes diagnosis for children who’ve had COVID-19, even when compared to children with other precursor respiratory diseases.
This latest announcement follows on the heels of a new study published in Nature yesterday, on the strong connection between COVID-19 and an increased risk of long term neurological disorders. Although the study was limited to a cohort of predominantly white males, the risks were still substantial, and “elevated even in people who did not require hospitalization during acute COVID-19”. Researchers found a laundry list of possible negative outcomes, affecting everything from memory and cognition, to nervous, sensory, and musculoskeletal systems, to mental health and risks of stroke, epileptic seizure, and encephalitis.
Type-1 diabetes is a fairly obvious risk from COVID-19, though, because it is an autoimmune disorder, and long COVID has been routinely associated with triggering similar. On September 21, the European Respiratory Journal posted two other studies on COVID-19’s long term impact. One of these, drawing from research in Canada, highlighted the significant presence of antibodies consistent with autoimmune disorders in patients up to a year after acute COVID-19. Researchers are now extending their work into two-year studies, to gauge the full length of this period of heightened risk.
In autoimmune disorders, the body essentially destroys its own, healthy cell systems. In the case of type-1 diabetes, this means destroying cells in the pancreas, called beta cells, which make insulin. Although many people are susceptible to type-1 diabetes from genetic inheritance, environmental factors, including viruses, can also trigger the onset of this debilitating and lifelong condition.
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In the US, the average death rate from acute COVID-19 is currently 347 people per day. In June, the CDC reported that one in five adults who had COVID-19 still have conditions under the umbrella of “post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2”: long COVID, for short. Last month, the Census Bureau released findings suggesting that long COVID might be keeping up to 4 million Americans out of the labor market.
Treatments for long COVID are also on the research agenda, though scientists emphasize that there is still a great deal we do not know about the consequences of a COVID-19 infection. We should therefore expect more clusters of new, grim research like we’ve seen in the last few days—and treat with healthy caution the world we’re moving through: however often we have (or haven’t) had COVID-19, and whatever range of symptoms we may or may not still be experiencing now.