A common viral infection could increase a person’s risk of developing diabetes later in life – and they may not even realise they have contracted it.
The Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is part of the herpes family and can be sexually-transmitted. It can also be spread via coughs and sneezes and it is estimated around half of all adults have been infected.
The virus tends to remain dormant and most people don’t exhibit any symptoms, but if they do they are similar to flu.
However, new research from Leiden University and the University of Tubingen in Germany suggests it is a significant risk factor for type 2 diabetes in the elderly.
They found adults aged 85 and over who were infected with cytomegalovirus were about twice as likely to have type 2 diabetes compared with those not infected.
The team analysed information from more than 500 elderly adults in the Netherlands.
Around 80 per cent were infected with cytomegalovirus and 15 per cent had type 2 diabetes.
While 17 percent of those infected with cytomegalovirus had type 2 diabetes, only 7.9 per cent of those without the virus had the condition.
Obesity and aging are known to be associated with insulin resistance, one of the first signs of type 2 diabetes. However, only a third of these people go on to develop the condition.
Those who develop type 2 diabetes usually have raised levels of biological markers for inflammation such as larger numbers of active white blood cells.
The researchers found chronic infections including CMV can ‘stress’ the immune system. They suggested the virus could be acting directly on pancreatic cells or indirectly by causing the immune system to attack the pancreas.
The study appears in BioMed Central’s open access journal Immunity and Ageing.