Berlin | Viral respiratory infections during the first six months of life may be associated with an increased risk for type 1 diabetes in children, according to a new study. Researchers from Helmholtz Zentrum Munchen in Germany examined data from almost 300,000 children born between 2005 and 2007.
They systematically evaluated all available data on infections with respect to the later development of type 1 diabetes. The infections were broken down according to the localisation of the symptoms such as dermal, eye, gastrointestinal or respiratory infections, the causes bacterial, viral or mycoses and the age (quarter-yearly from birth).
Our findings show that viral respiratory tract disorders during the first six months of life significantly increase the risk of children developing type 1 diabetes, said Andreas Beyerlein from Helmholtz Zentrum Munchen. Infections that occurred later or that involved other organs were not associated with a significantly higher risk.
For researchers, these findings are a further piece of evidence in understanding how type 1 diabetes develops, with the interaction of genetic and environmental factors still largely unclear. For the first time we were able to confirm this in a population-based data set of almost 300,000 children.
In particular, we found strong indications that the first six months are an especially sensitive stage in life, said Anette-Gabriele Ziegler from Helmholtz Zentrum Munchen. This is also consistent with other results that we have published based on data from children with increased familial risk, which already suggested that the first half year of life is crucial for the development of the immune system and of autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes, said Ziegler.