In the early days of the pandemic a patient arrived in hospital with the classic signs of Covid – shortness of breath, a cough and loss of sense of smell. But the 54 year old had other unexpected symptoms – he was hyperglycaemic and tested positive for diabetic ketoacidsosis, a potentially life threatening complication of diabetes where the body cannot produce enough insulin and starts to use fat for energy rather than sugar.
Despite being severely overweight – he had a body mass index of 42 compared to the normal range of 18 to 24 – he had no previous history of diabetes and doctors believe that the severe diabetic attack was caused by infection with SARs-CoV-2. After a brief stay in intensive care where he received high doses of insulin he was discharged, prescribed diabetic medication and told to follow a diabetic diet, according to an academic paper which describes the case.
But this was not an isolated case. From early 2020, doctors around the world have been reporting a similar phenomenon: a link between infection with Covid-19 and acute onset diabetes, or New-Onset Diabetes in Covid-19, as a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine in August 2020 called it.