The virus is called an enterovirus and is found in the gastrointestinal tract.
It is the second most common virus found in humans behind only the common cold.
People with the virus often show no symptoms, while others can exhibit flu-like symptoms. Enterovirus is common in children and more than 100 different enterovirus types have been identified in people. A subset of these enteroviruses can cause serious illnesses such as; myocarditis, meningitis, the hand-food- and -mouth disease as well as paralytic disease such as polio.
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In a study of 112 children between the ages of 2 and 16 years old with Type 1 diabetes and found that 83% were infected with the enterovirus at the time of diagnosis. Conversely, only 7% of children without diabetes that the researchers examined had the virus.
The researchers were quick to point out that they did not find a causal relationship between the virus and the development of Type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes.
However, they note the virus’ presence is an important biomarker in the early stages of Type 1 diabetes. In other words, there is not enough data to determine whether the virus causes Type 1 diabetes, but they have found that it is present at the time the majority of children they examined were diagnosed. It was present in very few children that did not have diabetes.
Scientists do not know the exact cause of Type 1 diabetes, which affects 22 million people around the globe.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s own immune cells go rogue and mistakenly attack insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. Insulin is a hormone that is needed to regulate levels of sugar in the blood. Without insulin, patients with the disease will die. Therefore, people with Type 1 diabetes must take multiple daily insulin injections or wear an external insulin pump.
Scientists say the findings may be an important step in the path to new treatments in the detection and prevention of the disease.
UPDATE FROM SCIENCE DAILY:
A group of investigators have published results from two studies in the scientific diabetes journal Diabetes identifying the enterovirus types which are associated with type 1 diabetes.
One study is based on children taking part in the Finnish Type 1 Diabetes Prediction and Prevention (DIPP) study, which is a birth cohort study observing children at genetic risk for type 1 diabetes from birth up to clinical diabetes or 15 years of age.
The other study (VirDiab) included children with newly diagnosed diabetes from five European countries.
The results from these studies clearly show that members of the group B coxsackieviruses are associated with the risk of type 1 diabetes while the 35 other enterovirus types tested did not show such a connection.
These findings are in line with other recent reports suggesting that group B coxsackieviruses can spread to the pancreas and damage the insulin-producing cells.
This new discovery, opens up the possibilities for future research aimed at developing vaccines against these viruses to prevent type 1 diabetes.
Since the group B coxsackieviruses includes only six enterovirus types it may be possible to include all of them in the same vaccine. Effective vaccines have been available for a long time against another enterovirus group, called polioviruses, which includes three enterovirus types.
Based on the most recent findings, it is estimated that such a vaccine could have the potential for preventing a significant proportion of new cases with type 1 diabetes.
More research is needed however to confirm the causal relationship between group B coxsackieviruses and type 1 diabetes and to find out the underlying mechanisms of how these viruses can initiate the type 1 diabetes disease process.
Source: Suomen Akatemia (Academy of Finland) (2013, October 22). New evidence for role of specific virus causing type 1 diabetes.