Carvings March 15, 2022

In the news

COVID-19 is the gift  that keeps on giving – confusion. Early in the course of the pandemic persons with type 2 diabetes were at much greater risk of dying from the infection but the situation is complicated. They were also more likely to be older, to be overweight or obese and have heart disease, all of which are additional risk factors. Patients with very high blood sugar levels were at similarly very high risk. Then it was discovered that some persons with no history of diabetes were found to have unusually high levels of blood sugar, putting them at risk as well. There was speculation that the virus destroyed insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, spawning a new cohort of type 1 diabetics.

Some good news has emerged from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. About 40 percent of newly diagnosed patients with diabetes reverted back to normal about a year after recovering from their illness. It’s important to note, however, that 56 percent of them remained diabetic. (Two patients could not be classified after nearly one year.) The story isn’t over – we won’t know what the long-term effects are for years. These seemingly recovered persons may have impaired sugar metabolism that will reappear years or decades from now.

An altogether separate but disturbing finding is that the incidence of type 2 diabetes – what was once called adult-onset diabetes – has doubled during the pandemic and the most dramatic increases have occurred in black teenagers, the majority of whom were not infected with the coronavirus. Even worse, there has been an alarming increase in the percentage of hospitalized youths with diabetic ketoacidosis – sometimes referred to as diabetic coma – a five-fold increase in one medical center. What’s going on?

Researchers are scrambling to unravel these developments. The isolation, the lockdown and the interruption of schooling are taking their toll. Less physical activity, more screen time, less sleep and a diet heavy of junk food most likely are contributing to the increase in type 2 diabetes, already an epidemic of its own.

Although what is needed is a massive public health effort to address this and other issues that have arisen since the outbreak of the pandemic, we are faced with enormous distractions: war in Ukraine, inflation, supply shortages, the chaos of an election only a few months away. In the meantime, as individuals we need to maintain our own good health which means a healthy diet and plenty of vigorous exercise.

Why these coronaviruses, i.e., the original virus and all its mutations, will never go away.

             Coronaviruses were found in turkeys in 1951 and since then all kinds of animals have been found to be infected, some 29 species so far. Our family dogs, our farm animals and the ones that we see in zoos are known to carry the virus, guaranteeing that after this pandemic phase has ended the coronavirus will be an endemic disease.

            Will it spread from these animals to humans? Probably, since we know that at least one person has apparently been infected after close contact with a deer – I have no details on that but it’s likely to have been a hunter. Is that a big deal? Probably not, since most mutations are lethal for the virus. My optimism is based on the knowledge that over several decades during which millions of birds have been infected with the “bird flu” virus, it has not emerged as a threat to humans. Cross your fingers!

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