Coughing up an Explanation for Diabetes

Respiratory Infections in early childhood may be a risk factor for developing Type 1 Diabetes

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) The number of children diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes has been rising. Sometimes, the disease is inherited. But sometimes, factors other than genes are involved in causing diabetes.

Having respiratory infections in early childhood may be a likely cause of this type of diabetes, suggests a new study.

According to this study, respiratory infections in early childhood are associated with a higher risk of developing certain proteins in the blood that can cause diabetes.

"Ask your pediatrician about preventing respiratory infections."

The study was conducted by Andreas Beyerlein, PhD, from the Institute of Diabetes Research, Munich, Germany, and colleagues.

The objective of the study was to find out whether exposure to respiratory infections during the first three years of life was associated with factors that cause type 1 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is a kind of diabetes in which the body cannot produce enough insulin because the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas are destroyed by the body’s own immune system.

It has been proposed that infections could activate immune cells in the body. The immune cells then could produce proteins called antibodies that can kill pancreas cells.

Since these antibodies attack the body’s own cells, they are called autoantibodies.

The researchers looked at 148 children at high risk of developing type 1 diabetes. They measured the level of autoantibodies in the blood stream of the study participants once every 3 months.

Altogether, the children had 1,245 documented infections during their first three years of life. The infections were categorized as respiratory, gastrointestinal or other infections.

Upon analysis of the data, the researchers found that the blood taken from kids who had respiratory infections during the first six months of life had a 2.27 times higher risk of having autoantibodies than kids who did not have infections.  

Blood taken from kids who had an infection between 6 and 12 months of age had a 1.32 times higher risk of having these antibodies than the kids without infections.

Infections during the second year of life did not seem to affect the chance of having these autoantibodies that can kill pancreatic cells.

Overall, the study results show that there is an association between respiratory infections in early childhood and the risk of developing autoantibodies in the blood stream.

Fever associated with the infection seemed to increase the risk but the results were not conclusive.

“Potential prevention strategies against T1D derived from studies like this might address early vaccination against specific infectious agents,” say the authors in the study conclusion section.

The authors also noted that the study was limited by a relatively lower number of participants and larger studies may be required to explore this association.

The study received funding from Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, a German research funding organization and Die Stiftung “Das zuckerkranke Kind”, a research foundation. According to the authors, the funding organizations were not involved in conducting the study.

No conflicts of interest or relevant financial relationships were reported.

The results of the study were published July 1 in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics (JAMA Pediatr).

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 29, 2013
Last Updated:
July 31, 2013