Childhood virus could increase risk for type 1 diabetes

The rotavirus, a virus that causes severe diarrhea in children, has been linked to the development of type 1 diabetes in mice.

Researchers from the University of Melbourne found that the virus's impact on the immune system can create a response that causes the body to attack not only the virus but also insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.

Virus causes 'bystander mechanism'

Barbara Coulson, lead researcher from the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, said the rotavirus may cause what's called a "bystander" mechanism, which activates the immune system to start attacking itself.

"This bystander mechanism provides a potential explanation for the acceleration of type 1 diabetes development by rotavirus infection in mice," she said in a press release.

Coulson explained that the same process could happen in children with the rotavirus, and it might also lead to a faster progression of type 1 diabetes in these children.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rotavirus can cause severe watery diarrhea in infants and young children, as well as fever, vomiting and abdominal pain. Before vaccines were available, the rotavirus killed about 20 to 60 children each year.

More research is needed on how the findings of the current study are relevant to humans, Coulson concluded.

"Understanding how rotavirus affects human type 1 diabetes development is expected to facilitate the implementation of preventative treatment for children at risk for this disease," she said. "For example, treatments that dampen down the particular type of immune response caused by rotavirus may be beneficial."

Source: University of Melbourne

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