More children and adolescents than usual developed type 1 diabetes in Finland in the first 18 months of the coronavirus pandemic. According to a recently completed study, the cause was not the novel coronavirus, but altered environmental factors.
The incidence of type 1 diabetes increased globally during the coronavirus pandemic. The PEDIA research group of the University of Helsinki has investigated the phenomenon and its causes in children in Finland.
“The mechanisms of the increase in the incidence of diabetes have been unclear, and there has been discussion on whether the increase results from a direct effect of SARS-CoV-2 infection or other simultaneously altered environmental factors,” says Professor Mikael Knip, who headed the study.
According to the study, the incidence of type 1 diabetes increased in children in Finland by 16% in the first 18 months of the pandemic. However, very few children or adolescents who developed type 1 diabetes had SARS-CoV-2 antibodies indicating a past infection.
According to the researchers, the increase in the incidence of type 1 diabetes in the early stages of the pandemic is not likely to have been caused directly by coronavirus. Instead, it may be related to the society-wide lockdown in the pandemic period and the resulting social isolation.
“According to what is known as the biodiversity hypothesis, microbial exposure and infections in early childhood can boost the protection against autoimmune diseases. The reduction in contacts in connection with the societal lockdown significantly reduced acute infections in children, which may have increased the risk of developing diabetes,” Knip explains.