A new study featured in the journal JAMA suggests that newborn babies who contract a case of the cold and flu before they turn 6 months old are more likely to develop type 1 diabetes later in life.

Dr. Anette-Gabriele Ziegler and her colleagues at the Helmholtz Zentrum Munchen research center examined data collected from about 300,000 children who were born from 2005 to 2007 in the German federal state of Bavaria.

Their main goal was to discover any potential connections between infections the children may have experienced growing up and cases of type 1 diabetes development later in their lives.

The team arranged the infections they evaluated based on the localization of their symptoms (such as infections in the eyes, skin, lungs, or stomachs of the children), the causes of the infections (whether it was triggered by a virus, bacteria, or fungi), and the age of participants when they contracted the infection.

Dr. Andreas Beyerlein, one of the authors of the study, said that children who developed viral respiratory tract infections during the first 6 months from their birth experienced a significantly higher risk of becoming type 1 diabetic compared to those who did not contract such infections.

They also discovered that participants who developed an infection beyond 6 months of age or those who contracted an infection but in a different body organ did not experience any significant increase in their diabetes risk.

Ziegler and her team's findings provide them with an important puzzle piece that could allow them to have a better understanding on how people develop type 1 diabetes. However, they have yet to fully explore the potential relationship between various genetic and environmental factors that could lead to the condition.

Ziegler pointed out that the results of their recent study are consistent with those they found in children identified with an increased familial risk. Their previous work suggested that the first 6 months of a newborn's life is a crucial stage where the child develops his or her immune system. However, it is also when the child is more susceptible to developing type 1 diabetes and other autoimmune diseases.

The researchers hope they will be able to find out if there really is a link between infections and type 1 diabetes and, if so, determine which specific pathogens trigger such a development in children. This could help fellow scientists produce an effective vaccine against the autoimmune disease.

Photo: Shira Gal | Flickr 

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