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March 11, 2001

Research: Causes and Prevention

Question from Geneseo, Illinois, USA:

Within the last two months, a five year old girl in my son's preschool class and the 18 month old son of the teacher have been diagnosed with type�1 diabetes. It was mentioned to me that in both cases, the diabetes was caused by a virus. I have never heard of that situation, and wondered if it could be true.


The cause of diabetes has been a huge topic of debate. Various triggers have been implicated with viruses being one of many. I am not sure anyone can be certain that a virus has triggered diabetes in this case, but it is possible.


[Editor’s comment: It is likely that, in both these cases, whatever virus was going around brought out latent diabetes. The autoimmune destruction of the beta cells of the pancreas leading to overt diabetes takes place over many months, even years. If there is a stressor, such as a virus, when a great portion of these have already been destroyed, the remaining beta cells cannot adequately respond to the higher blood glucose levels caused by the stress. Therefore, the diabetes, which really was already present, is unmasked.