Infants who experience respiratory tract infections in the first six of months of life are more likely to develop type 1 diabetes, research suggests.
Respiratory tract infections are most commonly causes by viruses, such as the common cold, bronchitis and tonsillitis. Children are more vulnerable to these infections because their immune system has not yet fully developed.
In this new study, researchers at Helmholtz Zentrum Munche, Germany analysed data of 295,420 infants who were born between 2005-2007. They were followed-up for an average of 8.5 years.
During the follow-up period, 720 infants were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Most of the children experienced respiratory and viral infections: 93 per cent of all infants experienced one infection during the first two years, and 97 per cent of children with type 1 diabetes experienced one infection during the same period.
The researchers found that children who had a respiratory tract infection between birth and 2.9 months or between three and 5.9 months were more likely to develop type 1 diabetes by the age of eight, compared to infants who didn’t develop infections during these age ranges.
The risk of type 1 diabetes also increased among children who developed a respiratory tract infection during both age intervals; and among children who experienced a viral infection between birth and 5.9 months.
Furthermore, children who had an upper respiratory tract infection before the age of six months had an increased 17 per cent risk of type 1 diabetes than the children who did not.
However, the researchers were unable to account for factors that may have influenced the findings, such as family history of type 1 diabetes or method of birth.
The authors wrote: “It is unknown whether the association with early infections reflects increased exposure to virus or an impairment of the immune system response, perhaps due to genetic susceptibility.
“The association of respiratory tract infections in the first six months with T1D is consistent with smaller studies assessing autoantibody development, suggesting that the first half-year of life is crucial for the development of the immune system and autoimmunity.”
The study appears in JAMA.

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