The finding could help explain a dramatic rise in diabetes incidence among very young children, and could even lead to better ways to prevent and treat the disease, researchers say.
The analysis of 26 studies published today in the journal BMJ Online First revealed that children with type 1 diabetes are almost 10 times more likely to show signs of enterovirus infection than children without the disease.
Enteroviruses are the second leading viral cause of cold-like symptoms in children, after rhinoviruses.
Researchers have long believed that genetic predisposition, the immune system, and environmental triggers interact to cause type 1 diabetes, a disease that affects nearly one in 400 children and adolescents in the U.S., according to the American Diabetes Association.
Enteroviruses have been on the radar as a possible disease trigger for decades. While some studies have found evidence of a link, others have not.
The newly published analysis was the first to combine results from molecular enterovirus-diabetes studies, and the findings were clear, says researcher Maria E. Craig, PhD, of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.
“We saw a very strong association between enterovirus infection and type 1 diabetes," Craig tells WebMD. “Obviously studies like the ones we looked at cannot prove cause and effect, but the findings make a strong case for this association.”
Since enteroviruses are made up of ribonucleic acid (RNA) and proteins, the studies included in the analysis measured RNA or protein in the blood, stool, or tissues of type 1 diabetic or pre-diabetic patients and compared them with people who did not have the disease.
Children with type 1 diabetes were 9.8 times more likely to be infected with enterovirus than children without the disease and those with pre-diabetes were three times more likely to have the infection than other children.
The Search for a Type 1 Vaccine
The next step, Craig says, is identifying the specific enterovirus or viruses associated with type 1 diabetes, with the goal of developing a vaccine to prevent type 1 diabetes.