Rates of diagnosis for type 1 diabetes in young children are dropping in Australia, and the reason could be found in an unexpected place: a rotavirus vaccine.
Rotavirus can cause severe and sometimes life-threatening diarrhea in young children, and is especially dangerous for infants to contract. The rotavirus vaccine was added to the list of Australia’s early-childhood immunizations in 2007. Scientists then noticed a decline in young children diagnosed with type 1 diabetes beginning the same year.
First notice of correlation
In fact, children who received the vaccine were 14 percent less likely to develop type 1 diabetes if they received the vaccine before the age of 4. If they received the vaccine between ages 5 to 14, rates of type 1 diabetes diagnoses were not affected.
Researchers believe this could be due to the older children having already come into contact with the virus itself. Even if they had never contracted the virus, simply coming into contact with it could negate any immunity the vaccine could provide for type 1 diabetes.
How it works
Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong condition in which the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin in order to regulate blood sugar levels.
Rotavirus infects cells in the pancreas and leads to cell death. The rotavirus vaccine stops this process and coincidentally protects the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Researchers believe this could be the reason why the vaccine seems to protect some children against type 1 diabetes.
The study was performed as a collaboration between the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and Walter and Eliza Hall Institute clinical scientists and researchers. The results were published in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics.
Senior study author, Professor Len Harrison, said, “Twenty years ago our team revealed an association between the appearance of immune markers of type 1 diabetes in children and rotavirus infection. Subsequent studies in laboratory models suggested rotavirus infection of pancreatic cells can trigger an immune attack against the insulin-producing cells—similar to what occurs in type 1 diabetes.”
Further research is needed to decide if the correlation is a coincidence, or if the rotavirus vaccine and the decline in type 1 diabetes diagnoses have a cause-effect relationship.