Flu is no ordinary virus!

I have been reading the New scientist magazine and I found an article on, “Diabetes link to flu in vulnerable people”.  It was found that flu could possibly lead to Type 1 diabetes.  I know you are all thinking, ‘but Type 1 diabetes is genetically inherited’, however, it can also be triggered by the environment, such as by the flu virus.  The article talks about how the flu virus can cause diabetes in vulnerable people which is through confusing the immune system so much that it turns on the pancreas, breaking down the pancreatic cells.  Without these pancreatic cells insulin is unable to be produced allowing a continuing rise in blood glucose concentration (type 1 diabetes).  This isn’t a recent suspicion it has been around since the 1970s.

It is thought that what happens is when the killer T-cells are shown a piece of infected tissue to learn how to recognise it they also recognise these pancreatic cells as well and so think they should destroy them along with the virus.  Sometimes our bodies are wonderful machines, but just like machines they can make a small mistake which leads to a huge consequence.  Now we need to try and stop this!

Research was done and two of the studies stood out.  One showed that when birds were infected with the virus they usually developed an inflamed pancreas.  Many of these turkey’s suffered from diabetes due to the damage to the pancreas from the virus.  This research was followed by one carried out on a human pancreas where they injected two common flu viruses into the tissues, both viruses multiplied and colonised the tissues really well, especially in the insulin-producing cells, said Ilaria Capua.

We know that usually the flu virus only stays within the lungs and gut, but sometimes it can seep into the blood stream and so has access to the rest of our body.  It has also been shown that there has been a rise in Type 1 diabetes from people who have been infected with the flu virus relatively recently as well as there being a recorded rise in Type 1 diabetes after the 2009 swine flu pandemic.

As we are aware of this possible trigger of Type 1 diabetes we are able to do something about it.  The people who have a genetic tendency to develop this type of diabetes can been given the flu vaccination to immunise themselves against it.  This could stop a small percentage of people developing Type 1 diabetes which would be a great achievement to say the least!

This was an article from the New Scientist magazine on 10th November 2012.


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