Type 1 Diabetes and Viral Infections

Study showed link between viral infections in first year of life and type 1 diabetes.


The cause of type 1 diabetes has raised more questions than answers for many years. Now an answer might be at hand.

Researchers from Germany found that children who had respiratory infections within the first six months or life had an increased risk of developing type 1 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the cells of the pancreas die or become damaged and can no longer produce insulin. Insulin is the hormone that regulates blood sugar.

Once known as juvenile diabetes because it is more likely to occur in children, type 1 diabetes means the patient must take injectable insulin. Type 2 diabetes, however, can usually be controlled with diet, exercise and/or oral medications.

Anette-Gabriele Ziegler, MD, led the study of more than 295,000 infants. Dr. Ziegler is an internist and endocrinologist. She is a professor at Helmholtz Zentrum Munchen in Munich, Germany.

Dr. Zeigler and her colleagues studied data for patients in Bavaria, Germany. The children were followed from birth for about eight years.

Previous research has indicated that viral infections might be the cause of type 1 diabetes, but the studies have been small. This is the first large study to confirm the findings.

The researchers found that 93 percent of children in the study experienced an upper respiratory infection in the first two years of life. Among children who developed type 1 diabetes, 97 percent had at least one upper respiratory infection.

Approximately 29 of each 100,000 children developed type 1 diabetes each year in the course of the study. The most significant time period for increased type 1 diabetes risk seemed to be the first six months. The first six to 12 months of life is an important period in terms of developing immunity.

Children who had a respiratory infection between birth and six months of age had an increased risk of type 1 diabetes compared to children who did not have respiratory infections.

Dr. Ziegler and colleagues theorized that type 1 diabetes results from an interaction between the respiratory infection and genetic susceptibility.

The study was published as a research letter in the May issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Information on study funding and conflict of interest was not available.