Childhood gastro could increase risk of coeliac disease

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  Last updated February 15, 2019 at 4:46 pm


Having an enterovirus infection as a child may be linked with developing the autoimmune disease.

bread baguette in a bakery

A group of common intestinal viruses may be a trigger for coeliac disease in children who have a genetic predisposition for the disease, according to new research published in the BMJ

The study included 220 children with genes that make them more susceptible to becoming a coeliac and, of these, 25 went on to develop the disease during the 15 year study. These kids were more likely to test positive for gut bugs known as enteroviruses than kids without coeliac disease.

Enterovirus infections are common and often produce mild symptoms such as runny noses and vomiting, and illnesses including hand, foot and mouth disease.

“We found a significant association between exposure to enterovirus and subsequent risk of coeliac disease,” the researchers wrote. “This study suggests that infections with enterovirus in early life could be one among several key risk factors for development of a disease with lifelong consequences.”

The authors say they were more likely to find enterovirus before the children developed coeliac disease, suggesting there may be a link between the two.

They also tested for another group of viruses, adenoviruses, which cause common cold symptoms, but these did not show the same link.

One of the most common autoimmune diesaes

Professor Katie Allen from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, who was not involved in the study, told the AusSMC that coeliac disease is one of the most common autoimmune disease affecting up to one in 100 children in Western countries.

“We still don’t know why it occurs in some kids who eat gluten but not others,’  she said.

She told the AusSMC the study provides an interesting lead in hunting down the cause of coeliac disease, which is a lifelong condition.

The researchers say the link is consistent with the idea that viruses may disrupt the mucus barrier in the gut, allowing more gluten to enter and triggering a loss of tolerance.

Unlikely to be the whole answer

Dr Jason Tye-Din from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute said the researchers were highly regarded and the science was sound, but he pointed out the small number of children in the study who actually developed coeliac disease, saying this could lead to incorrect associations.

Enteroviruses are also unlikely to be the complete answer, as only 20 per cent of the infants who developed coeliac disease in the study showed evidence of an enterovirus infection beforehand, compared to the control group where the rate of infection was 15 per cent.

“Enterovirus was not present in most children who developed coeliac disease,” he said. ” Other factors are important in disease development.”

But Dr Tye-Din said that the research supported a growing body of evidence suggesting that micro-organisms may be important triggers of autoimmune diseases, such as coeliac disease.

If enterovirus is confirmed as a trigger factor, the authors of the research say a vaccine could be developed that may reduce the high numbers of those with coeliac disease.

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About the Author

Lyndal Byford
Lyndal is the Director of News and Partnerships at the Australian Science Media Centre. She spends her days turning complex science papers into tasty morsels to help news journalists cover science. Lyndal has an Honours Degree in Biotechnology from Flinders University and a Graduate Diploma in Science Communication from the Australian National University. She has spent the last 20 years communicating science in a range of settings including science museums, within the pharmaceutical industry and in media relations both here and in the UK. Lyndal regularly speaks about science on ABC Radio National and 2CC in Canberra. Lyndal was also a member of Inspiring Australia’s Science and the Media Expert working group for the Federal Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research.

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The Australian Science Media Centre (AusSMC) is an independent, not-for-profit service for the news media, giving journalists direct access to evidence-based science and expertise. We aim to better inform public debate on the major issues of the day by improving links between the media and the scientific community. The Centre works with journalists to help them cover science as well as identify the science angles in everyday news stories and works with the scientific community to help them interact more effectively with the media and ensure that their voices are heard on issues of national importance.

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