Aims/hypothesis: Type 1 diabetes arises from an interplay between environmental and genetic factors. The reported seasonality at diagnosis supports the hypothesis that currently unknown external triggers play a role in the onset of the disease. We investigated whether a seasonal pattern is observed at diagnosis in Belgian Type 1 diabetic patients, and if so whether seasonality varies according to age, sex and genetic risk, all known to affect the incidence of Type 1 diabetes.
Methods: The seasonal pattern at clinical diagnosis was assessed in 2176 islet antibody-positive diabetic patients aged 0 to 39 years diagnosed between 1989 and 2000. Additional stratification was performed for age, sex and HLA-DQ genotype.
Results: Overall, a significant seasonal pattern at clinical diagnosis of diabetes was observed (p<0.001). More subjects were diagnosed in the period of November to February (n=829) than during the period of June to September (n=619) characterised by higher averages of maximal daily temperature and daily hours of sunshine. However, the seasonal pattern was restricted to patients diagnosed above the age of 10 (0-9 years: p=0.398; 10-19 years: p<0.001; 20-29 years: p=0.003; 30-39 years: p=0.015). Since older age at diagnosis is associated with a male to female excess and a lower prevalence of the genetic accelerator HLA-DQ2/DQ8, we further stratified the patients aged 10 to 39 years (n=1675) according to HLA-DQ genotype and sex, and we found that the seasonal pattern was largely restricted to male subjects lacking DQ2/DQ8 (n=748; p<0.00 vs all others: n=927; p=0.031).
Conclusions/interpretation: In a subgroup of male patients diagnosed over the age of 10, the later stages of the subclinical disease process may be more driven by sex- and season-dependent external factors than in younger, female and genetically more susceptible subjects. These factors may explain the male to female excess in diabetes diagnosed in early adulthood.