Researchers have prompted another reason to worry about flu season. The influenza virus may trigger diabetes. But, if the hunch is true, it may also help doctors target and prevent diabetes.
There are two common forms of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes, the more common form, occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin or when the cells ignore the insulin that the body creates. The second, less common form of diabetes is Type 1, which affects 5 percent of people with diabetes, is when the body does not produce insulin at all. It is normally diagnosed during childhood or young adulthood. While people are born with a genetic predisposition for the disorder, an environmental factor triggers the onset of the lifelong condition - though researchers have remained uncertain about what exactly the environmental factor is.
As a result, researchers from Italy infected turkeys with the flu, because infected birds normally have enlarged pancreas after developing the flu, even if the virus does not spread beyond their respiratory tract. After flu infection, many of the turkeys developed severe pancreatitis, or pancreas damage, and diabetes. Subsequent studies by the same researchers infected human pancreatic tissue with two common influenza viruses. In both cases, the flu virus grew very well, producing the type of chemicals that are, in turn, central to the autoimmune reactions that lead to type 1 diabetes. According to New Scientist, researchers theorize that immune cells bring infected cells to the fighter T-cells to help them learn to destroy the disease. But the T-cells become carried away with their job, learning to not just recognize the disease, but the insulin-producing cells that carry them.
Normally, in humans, the flu virus remains in the respiratory tract, but sometimes it can escape into the blood. From there, the virus can find its way to the pancreas, where it can heartily reproduce.
Ilaria Capua said that, even if the flu virus is responsible for a relatively small number of diabetes cases, researchers can find the people with the genetic predisposition and vaccinate them against the flu.
Researchers have also found that the flu can help increase the risk of heart attacks. The study was prompted by the rise in heart attacks after flu season. Fortunately, though, researchers from the University of Toronto in Canada found that vaccinating adults against the flu, whether or not they had a history of cardiac problems, cuts their chances of suffering from a heart attack the following year in half.