Can a Virus Cause Type 1 Diabetes?

Posted on February 12, 2011


No one knows exactly what triggers type 1 diabetes, but most researchers believe it develops from a complex interplay of genetic, environmental and immune system factors. However, a growing body of evidence suggests that a viral infection could be partly to blame.

Researchers from Australia performed a comprehensive analysis of 26 different reports and studies, involving over 4,400 people—including nearly 2,000 individuals with type 1 diabetes—to see if there was any association between the disease and infection with a class of viruses known as enteroviruses. These viruses invade the gastrointestinal tract and are very common (coxsackieviruses fall into this group). They are passed when a person comes in contact with saliva or other secretions from an infected individual.

The results of their analysis revealed that children with type 1 diabetes were almost 10 times more likely to have had an enterovirus infection than children who were never diagnosed with diabetes.

Though their study does offer an important clue into the mystery behind the development of type 1 diabetes, the researchers stopped short of drawing a direct cause-and-effect relationship between enterovirus infection and type 1 diabetes. More research needs to be done to determine what factor—or group of factors—contributes to the development of the illness.


Enterovirus infection and type 1 diabetes mellitus: systematic review and meta-analysis of observational molecular studies. Wing-Chi G Yeung, et al. BMJ 2011;342:doi:10.1136/bmj.d35 (Published 3 February 2011).

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