Australian researchers propose that the rotavirus infection could play a role in triggering the onset of type 1 diabetes.

Rotavirus is a highly infectious stomach bug and a major cause of gastroenteritis, a condition that causes diarrhoea and vomiting.

Vaccination programs in Australia have significantly decreased mortality rates as a result of rotavirus infection. In the UK, the NHS reports that vaccination against rotavirus prevented more than 70% of cases.

Researchers from the University of Melbourne note that there has been a 15% decrease in incidence of type 1 diabetes in children under the age of four following the introduction of the rotavirus vaccination in Australia.

The article’s lead author, Leonard C. Harriso, said: “Vaccination against rotavirus may have the additional benefit in some children of being a primary prevention for type 1 diabetes.”

The researchers reviewed molecular evidence which showed strong similarities between the rotavirus and islet autoantibodies. The fact the rotavirus mimics autoantibodies lends itself to the hypothesis that rotavirus could trigger type 1 diabetes.

The article goes on to highlight studies which show an associated decrease in incidence of type 1 diabetes following rotavirus vaccination.

In one of the studies reviewed, there was a 41% decrease in type 1 diabetes incidence among children that were fully vaccinated against rotavirus infection. The data showed 12.2 cases of type 1 per 100,000 person years in those that were vaccinated. This compared with 20.6 cases in those unvaccinated.

The researchers are keen for further research to focus in on identifying which children are most likely to be protected by rotavirus vaccination. The team is also keen to see research identify whether rotavirus infects the human pancreas before islet autoimmunity takes hold.

The research is published in the journal PLOS Pathogens.

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