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Viral Infections During Pregnancy Linked to Juvenile Diabetes

Update Date: Oct 03, 2014 06:38 PM EDT

Type 1 diabetes and other autoimmune disorders in children could be a result of a mother contracting a viral infection during pregnancy.

Researchers at Tel Aviv University (TAU) established the seasonality of births of children of auto immune disorders, which pointed to winter epidemics when viral outbreaks are common. Mothers who contracted a viral infection can transmit viruses which could lead to genetic problems in fetuses, resulting in type-1 diabetes, researchers established when they tested blood of 107 healthy pregnant women for islet cell autoantibodies which are the first indicators of diabetes. The tests for anti-rotavirus and anti-CoxB3 antibodies were also done.

"We knew that type 1 diabetes was associated with other autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto Thyroiditis, celiac disease, and multiple sclerosis, so we investigated the seasonality of birth months for these respective diseases in Israel and other countries," said Prof Zvi Laron, Professor Emeritus of Pediatric Endocrinology at TAU's Sackler Faculty of Medicine, in a press release.

"We found that the seasonality of the birth of children who went on to develop these diseases did indeed differ from that of the general public. In further studies, we found evidence that viral infections of the mother during pregnancy induced damage to the pancreas of the mother and/or the foetus, evidenced by specific antibodies including those affecting the pancreatic cells producing insulin," he said.

Researchers also inferred the presence of a fetal immune response through the high concentrations of cord blood antibodies.

"If our hypothesis can be verified, then preventive vaccine before conception would be useful in stopping the increasing incidence of type 1 diabetes and other autoimmune diseases. There is no cure for this diabetes, so true intervention would be important not only medically but also psychologically and financially, as the costs of the lifelong treatment of this chronic disease and other autoimmune diseases are great," Laron said. 

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