Influenza may be a cause of type-1 diabetes according to an Italian study. (1) The researchers discovered that when infected with the flu, turkeys often develop severe pancreatic damage and diabetes. After this observation, human tissues were infected with two common strains of the flu and these also developed diabetes.
Dr. Capua, one of the lead researchers in the study noted that … the virus “grew really well” in human tissue. He continued by saying that we can “…prevent flu in people who are genetically predisposed, and that can have a real impact.”
According to the European Commission and Community Research and Development Information Service: “For almost 40 years, scientists have postulated that viruses could be responsible for diabetes. Type 1 diabetes, for instance, usually sets in just after an infection. However, there evidence confirming this has been insufficient, until now.” (2)
Ilaria Capua from the Italian office of the World Organisation for Animal Health investigated the flu virus in turkeys because these birds with flu often have an inflamed pancreas. “Regardless if the turkeys have strains of the virus that do not normally spread outside of the lungs, the researchers discovered that many of the turkeys developed severe pancreatic damage and diabetes. They later infected human pancreatic tissue with two common flu viruses, and both ‘grew really well’ in the tissue,” according to Dr. Capua.
“With respect to the flu being present in the pancreas, Dr Capua said the pancreas provides an environment that allows the virus to replicate.” (2)
This is important since some studies found that “type 1 diabetes is triggered when the immune system plays havoc on the pancreatic cells that produce insulin.” (2)
(1) Capua I1, Mercalli A, Pizzuto MS, Romero-Tejeda A, Kasloff S, De Battisti C, Bonfante F, Patrono LV, Vicenzi E, Zappulli V, Lampasona V, Stefani A, Doglioni C, Terregino C, Cattoli G, Piemonti L. “Influenza A viruses grow in human pancreatic cells and cause pancreatitis and diabetes in an animal model.” J Virol. 2013 Jan;87(1):597-610.
(2) Cordis.Europa.EU – European Commission – Community Research and Development Information Service – “Study finds link between flu virus and diabetes onset.” Last updated on: 2012-12-03