Animals may carry 'infectious'Type 1 diabetes
Type 1 diabetes may be an infectious disease carried by animals, researchers believe.
The auto-immune condition occurs when the body stops producing insulin.
A new study of children with the disease has revealed a distribution pattern mirroring that of flu. This has led scientists to suspect that, like flu or measles, Type 1 diabetes may be spread by an infectious agent.
The researchers studied cases of Type 1 diabetes in north-east England. They found that over a six-year cycle, cases not only varied in frequency but peaked at certain times of the year.
The pattern suggested an infection carried by a wild animal which triggered an auto-immune reaction in susceptible individuals.
Study leader Dr Richard McNally, from the University of Newcastle, said: "There is a growing body of evidence that supports the idea that while children may be genetically predisposed to develop Type 1 diabetes, it could be triggered by infection.
"Our research builds on this by comparing how and where flu occurred and we saw a similar pattern with Type 1 diabetes."
The study, published in the online journal 'Public Library of Science ONE', involved 468 children under the age of 14 who had been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
Clusters of cases were identified over periods of a few months. A similar distribution was seen in a study of flu cases in California.
Previous research by the same team had revealed an unexplained peak in numbers of children with Type 1 diabetes every six years.
Consultant paediatrician Dr Tim Cheetham, from the University of Newcastle, said the research was only possible because the team had access to data about the number and location of children with diabetes.
"I think many people will be surprised to learn that in 2013 we are still unable to count precisely how many children have diabetes," he said.
"By establishing a register we are starting to address this problem, so in future we will have a much clearer idea of where people with diabetes were when they were diagnosed and the area where they live now."