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Diabetes cases, especially in children, up significantly since the pandemic began

Alan Levine

There has been a significant increase in the number of Type 1 diabetes diagnoses since the pandemic started nearly two years ago, especially in children. Doctors in central New York say diabetes cases in the region are up 30%.

John Arnold of Manlius celebrated his 19th birthday on a golf course with friends last summer. They’d noticed he’d needed to urinate constantly while playing. His mom, Patti, had been concerned about a recent weight loss and fatigue, and was planning on taking him to the doctor. But after becoming quite ill, Arnold took her son to the pediatric emergency room at Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse, and the diagnosis shocked her.

"When the nurse said to me ‘I think he’s a diabetic.’ I was like, ‘What?, okay, I guess.’ And then when she did the finger stick, he was 515, which is very high," said Arnold.

It’s a story Upstate pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Roberto Izquierdo is hearing more and more of since the pandemic began.

"Before the pandemic, we saw about a 100 new patients with Type 1 diabetes and Type 2, but most with Type 1,” said Izquierdo. “And just last year our numbers went up to 142."

Recent studies mirror these stats. Doctors in San Diego have seen a 57% increase in Type 1 diabetes cases in youth. In a recent morbidity and mortality report, the federal Centers for Disease Control documented the increased risk for the onset of diabetes among kids more than a month after a COVID infection.

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Patti Arnold is convinced that an earlier summer cold was COVID, and that led to her son’s diagnosis.

“He was a perfectly healthy 19-year-old kid, and we were shocked, I was floored when they said it. I thought they were going to say he had mono,” she said. “And I’m a nurse and I didn’t see it. I didn’t see diabetes, because we don’t have it in our family and that’s what you automatically think."

Izquierdo said the important thing is to get children into treatment as soon as possible, so they avoid ketoacidosis, a life-threatening complication of diabetes. And although it’s a lifelong disease, care and management has come a long way.

“We have multiple types of insulins that let us adjust blood sugar, that are significantly better,” said Izquierdo. “We now have continued glucose monitor so children don’t have to check their blood sugar as frequently. We also have insulin pumps that can deliver insulin continuously. So that has improved the quality of life for children.”

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Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.