In a study presented in September at the annual meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes, researchers from the Universities of Turku, Tampere and Oulu in Finland found that babies infected with a common virus are at increased risk of developing type 1 diabetes.
According to Pat Hagan of Reuters Health, the researchers tracked newborns through their early years of life and found that infections with enterovirus were much more common among those who went on to develop diabetes than in healthy individuals.
“Enterovirus,” according to Hagan, “is a term used to describe a range of viruses, including polio, coxsackie virus groups A and B, and echoviruses. They can cause a variety of illnesses, such as aseptic meningitis, encephalitis-swelling of the brain-and upper respiratory tract infections. Most infections are mild, and children under age 5 are most commonly affected.”
The researchers studied infants whose parents had agreed to take part in the Finnish Diabetes Prediction and Prevention Study. In this study, all newborns are screened to measure their risk of developing diabetes and those most at risk are followed.
“Researchers monitored which infants went on to develop enterovirus infections and found they affected 24 percent of the 248 children who developed diabetes, but just 16 percent of the healthy infants,” writes Hagan. “Youngsters with diabetes also had higher average levels of antibodies to the virus.”
The researchers found that enterovirus infections were particularly frequent in the six months before the development of the self-directed antibodies that are associated with type 1 diabetes. “These data confirm the hypothesis that enterovirus infections are a risk factor
for type 1 diabetes,” the researchers concluded.