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Early Respiratory Infection & Type 1 Diabetes Risk

Researchers looked at children who had first-degree relatives with the autoimmune disease

WebMD News from HealthDay

At 7 months, study finds difference in eye

By Serena Gordon

HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, July 1 (HealthDay News) -- What may seem like a harmless cold during the first six months of life may more than double a child's chances of developing antibodies that often lead to type 1 diabetes, new German research suggests.

Infections that occur later don't seem to pose as high as risk. When infants between 6 and 12 months had a respiratory illness, their risk only increased by 32 percent, the study found.

The researchers noted that these findings probably don't apply to all youngsters, because this study was done with children who have a high risk of developing the disease because they have a first-degree relative who has type 1 diabetes.

"In general, the early immune system is still in a phase of development, and may therefore be particularly susceptible for challenges by infectious agents. However, we cannot explain yet why specifically respiratory infections might be relevant in this phase," said study author Andreas Beyerlein, head of the working group on epidemiology at the Institute of Diabetes Research in Munich.

Results of the study were published online July 1 in JAMA Pediatrics.

Infections have long been suspected as potential triggers of type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition that causes the body's immune system to mistakenly attack and destroy insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas, according to background information in the study. Insulin is a hormone needed to metabolize the carbohydrates in foods so that they can be used as fuel for the body and brain.

Substances called islet autoantibodies appear in the blood before the development of type 1 diabetes, sometimes years before diabetes is evident. These autoantibodies help researchers predict whether or not someone will develop type 1 diabetes.

In the current study, the researchers followed 148 children who were under 3 months old when they started the study. All of the babies had a first-degree relative with type 1 diabetes.

When the children were 3 months old, the parents were asked to complete a detailed questionnaire that included information about their baby's history of infections, fever and medication use. They were asked to detail the types of symptoms their child had. They were also asked about family history of diabetes, and questions about lifestyle factors, such as whether the mother smoked during pregnancy.

Parents were then asked to record information about any illnesses or diseases that occurred until the child was 3 years old. The children also had their blood tested every three months to look for evidence that they had developed islet autoantibodies.

Over the three-year study, there were 1,245 infectious "events." Most -- 669 -- were respiratory infections that affected the upper respiratory tract, including the ear, nose, throat or eye. Infections that affected the digestive system totaled 257, and another 319 cases were classified as "other" infections, such as skin infections.

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