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Cold Virus May Trigger Type 1 Diabetes

Children With Diabetes 10 Times More Likely to Have Enterovirus Infection

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.

“There are more than 100 strains of enteroviruses, but probably only a handful are associated with type 1 diabetes,” she says.

Virologist Didier Hober, MD, PhD, of France’s University Lille says other important questions remain about enteroviruses and type 1 diabetes, such as whether the virus is involved in all or just some cases of the disease.

He says patients who tested negative for the virus in past studies may have actually had the infection at levels that were too low to detect.

Hober says the enterovirus connection may also explain the dramatic rise in type 1 diabetes in higher-income countries like the U.S. and European countries.

The thinking is that improved hygiene has left babies more vulnerable to assaults from viruses like enterovirus because mothers today pass on fewer protective antibodies than were passed on by past generations of mothers.

If enteroviruses play a big role in type 1 diabetes, the so-called "hygiene hypothesis" could explain why disease rates have not risen in poorer, less industrialized countries, he tells WebMD.

Looking for Other Diabetes Triggers

While enteroviruses may prove to be an important environmental trigger for type 1 diabetes, it is not likely to be the only one, Seattle endocrinologist William Hagopian, MD, PhD, tells WebMD.

Very early exposure to cow’s milk and early exposure to gluten have also been linked to type 1 diabetes in some studies.

Hagopian is leading a study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health that will closely follow a large group of high-risk newborns from the U.S., Finland, Germany, and Sweden through childhood and into early adulthood in an effort to determine if these environmental exposures or others play a role in type 1 diabetes.

“We are going to cast a very large net in an effort to identify the triggers that lead to this disease,” he tells WebMD. “We will be looking at the potential triggers that have been on our radar, and we will also be looking for those we may not know about.”

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