Viral Infections as a Potential Cause of Type 1 Diabetes for People with Genetic Predisposition

Factors that trigger the onset of type 1 diabetes for people who have a genetic predisposition are still not known with certainty. There are likely many environmental factors that contribute and lead to the destruction of insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells.

New hypotheses

Viral infections are among the likely suspects. We mentioned this hypothesis in a previous article, and several recent studies provide a mounting body of evidence that rotavirus could be to blame. 

Rotavirus is frequently responsible for infantile gastroenteritis. A vaccine to prevent it has been included in the Québec Immunization Program since 2010. 

Two recent studies suggest that rotavirus could be involved in the onset of type 1 diabetes.

  • Following an immunization program for children under four years old, an Australian study observed a 15% decrease of new type 1 diabetes diagnoses. 
  • Another recent study showed that the body’s reaction to a rotavirus infection can cause the production of antibodies that are largely similar to those that are responsible for the destruction of beta cells.  

What does this mean for the future?

It bears noting that those hypotheses based on observations made in Australia couldn’t be corroborated by a Finnish study, and that this type of study can’t establish with certainty any causal relationship between rotavirus infections and the onset of type 1 diabetes.   

However, the Australian study findings suggest that children with a higher predisposition to type 1 diabetes—for example, because one of their parents has type 1 diabetes—may benefit from receiving the vaccine. 

Although the end goal is still, obviously, to completely eradicate the onset of this illness, a decrease in the risk of type 1 diabetes would represent significant progress.


  • Perrett, K.P., Jachno, K., Nolan, T.M., Harrison, L.C. (2019). Association of Rotavirus Vaccination and the Incidence of Type 1 Diabetes in Children. JAMA Pediatrics. Jan 22; 173(1).280–82. pmid:30667473.
  • Harrison, L.C., Perrett, K.P., Jachno, K., Nolan, T.M., Honeyman, M.C. (2019) Does Rotavirus Turn On Type 1 Diabetes? PLoS Pathog 15(10). doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1007965.

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