Virus Exposure Linked to Type 1 Diabetes Risk

Researchers have long suspected a link between certain viral infections and the risk of developing type 1 diabetes[1]. Now, with the release of new results from a study called The Environmental Determinants of Diabetes in the Young (TEDDY)[2], there’s finally solid evidence to suggest that viruses play a role in who gets the disease.

As described in an article[3] published in the journal Nature Medicine, researchers looked at viruses in stool samples from hundreds of children followed from birth as part of the TEDDY study. They found that a prolonged infection (longer than 30 days) with a common type of virus that can cause a fever or sore throat — called an enterovirus — was linked to developing beta cell[4] autoimmunity, a precursor to type 1 diabetes. (Beta cells are insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.)


“This is important because enteroviruses are a very common type of virus,” explains lead author Kendra Vehik, PhD, in a press release[5] from the University of South Florida. “A lot of children get them, but not everybody that gets the virus will get [diabetes].”

The researchers found that certain children who carry a genetic variant in a surface protein of pancreatic beta cells — proteins that enteroviruses use to attach to the cells — are at higher risk for developing autoimmunity if they experience a prolonged infection. This is the first time that a genetic risk for type 1 diabetes has been shown to be related to virus receptors, according to Vehik.

The researchers also discovered that infection with a different virus in early life — called adenovirus C, which can cause respiratory infections — was linked to a lower risk of beta cell autoimmunity. Further investigation may reveal whether this type of infection offers a protective effect against developing type 1 diabetes.

Want to learn more about type 1 diabetes? Read “Type 1 Diabetes Questions and Answers,”[6] “Six Type 1 Diabetes Symptoms You Need to Know”[7] and see our type 1 diabetes videos[8].

Quinn Phillips[9]Quinn Phillips

A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree in government from Harvard University. He writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.

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