An alarming increase in the incidence of diabetes in children is unlikely to be linked to the flu virus, UNSW medical researchers say.

Media reports that the increase in Type 1 diabetes cases can be attributed to the current flu outbreak are misguided, according to Paediatric Endocrinologist and Senior Lecturer, Women's and Children's Health, Dr Maria Craig, and Prince of Wales Hospital Senior Medical Virologist, Professor William Rawlinson.

"Our research suggests that infection with a group of viruses called 'enteroviruses' triggers many cases of childhood diabetes but the flu virus is not a recognised cause or trigger of Type 1 diabetes," says Dr Craig.

"We are now following children from birth to enable us to better understand how these viruses trigger diabetes in young children by closely studying the genetic make up of these viruses.

"We are also looking at other factors that may also increase the risk of developing diabetes, including dietary factors and vitamin D (which is important for the immune system)."

Type 1 (insulin dependent or early onset) diabetes is one of the most common chronic childhood illnesses in Australia.

UNSW research has shown Type 1 diabetes is increasing at a rate of approximately 3 per cent per year in New South Wales and a recent report from Victoria showed a rise of 9 per cent per year since 1999.

Typically more cases are diagnosed in the winter months, as has been observed in Sydney (SMH 8 Aug 2007), however there is no evidence to suggest that the flu virus is responsible.

Type 2 diabetes is also on the increase, but more than 90 per cent of children who develop diabetes in childhood have Type 1.

"This rise in Type 1 diabetes has occurred far too quickly to be explained by genes and most children who develop Type 1 diabetes don't have a relative with the disease," Dr Craig says.

"This has led researchers to look at the enteroviruses and that research is ongoing," Dr Craig says.

Media contacts: Steve Offner, UNSW Media Office, 9385 1583 or 0424 580 208, Dr Maria Craig, 9350 1111 or 0417 233 064, Prof William Rawlinson, 9382 9113.

Date issued: Thurs 9 Aug. 2007