Common maternal infections during pregnancy and in the postnatal period may predict a significantly lower risk of islet autoimmunity in young female offspring genetically disposed for type 1, according to a study at Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver.
Researchers tested approximately 1,300 children with genes predisposing them to type 1 autoimmune diabetes at 9, 15 and 24 months after birth and yearly thereafter. The primary outcome was the appearance of one or more islet autoantibodies (to GAD65, insulin or IA-2/ICA512) at two or more consecutive visits.
After slightly more than four years’ follow-up, 52 children developed islet autoimmunity. Daughters of mothers who reported at least one symptom of infection during pregnancy (typically respiratory or gastrointestinal) had a significantly lower risk of islet autoimmunity compared with those who did not.
Diabetes Care, November 2003
Lars Stene, MS, PhD, was the lead researcher on the pregnancy study
Could an infection during pregnancy or shortly after birth actually prevent diabetes?
It’s too soon to say. Scientists used to believe diabetes resulted from an infection, but that idea has never been accepted completely. One theory is that the antibodies stimulated by an external infection may balance internal problems that lead to diabetes.
Was there any specific type of infection examined by the study?
No, just various minor infections. It’s important to note that our study established that the symptoms of infection were present, not necessarily a complete infection that was treated seriously. But because symptoms were present in the mother, the antibody was transferred to the child through the placenta or breast milk.
What is the status of research on this topic?
This is a preliminary study. We definitely will need to see a similar effect in other diabetes studies before drawing any conclusions.