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Paediatrician urges parents to be on lookout for diabetes symptoms in children following rise during Covid pandemic

There has been a reported rise in children and young people diagnosed with type 1 diabetes during the pandemic
Seanín Graham

A paediatrician has urged parents to be aware of diabetic symptoms in children following a rise in cases over the past year - with a possible link to coronavirus being explored.

Dr Sarinda Millar, a consultant based in the Southern health trust, said that in just one week in January they dealt with nine new diagnoses of type 1 diabetes.

Children presenting with the condition also tended to be much sicker and in need of urgent treatment.

Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented and is the most common type of the autoimmune disease in both children and young adults.

Diet and lifestyle play no role in is development.

Dr Millar is now embarking on research to discover a possible link between exposure to Covid-19 and the onset of symptoms.

"We are definitely seeing more new cases of type 1 diabetes in children compared to previous years... We are also finding that more new patients are presenting sicker in diabetic ketoacidosis, which can be life threatening if not treated quickly," the child and adolescent paediatrician said.

"The cause of type 1 diabetes is not yet fully understood but is likely to include a variety of environmental and genetic reasons. Viruses are also felt to play a role and there have been some initial studies exploring a potential link between Covid-19 and type 1 diabetes.

Dr Sarinda Millar, a consultant paediatrician in the Southern health trust, is carrying out research into a possible link between coronavirus and type 1 diabetes in children

"A diagnosis can be worrying for young people and their parents but with timely diagnosis and support from the inter professional diabetes team there is absolutely no reason anyone cannot lead a normal life."

Similar research was carried out by Imperial College London last summer after 30 children in hospitals across north-west London presented with new-onset type 1 diabetes during the first Covid wave - almost double the number typically seen in the same period over previous years.

While children are deemed to be at low risk of serious illness after contracting Covid or being exposed to positive cases, the English study concluded there may be a relationship between the virus and disease - but that further research was required.

Parents and young people are encouraged to be on the lookout for four key type 1 diabetes symptoms, known as the 'four Ts': going to the toilet more than normal, being really thirsty, tiredness and getting thinner.

"If you notice any of these you should seek medical attention as soon as possible," Dr Millar said.

Type 1 diabetes causes insulin-producing cells in the pancreas to be destroyed, preventing the body from being able to produce enough insulin to adequately regulate blood glucose levels.

It can be treated with several daily injections of insulin or using a pump to keep blood glucose levels under control.

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