Link Between Infant Infection Rates and Celiac Disease

The risk for celiac disease is higher in children who had frequent infections during the first 18 months of their lives, according to findings reported in The American Journal of Gastroenterology.

The risk for celiac disease is higher in children who had frequent infections during the first 18 months of their lives, according to findings reported in The American Journal of Gastroenterology.

Researchers from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health examined records of more than 70,000 children born between 2000 and 2009 until they were 18 months old to test whether early life infections are linked to increased risk of later developing celiac disease.

The data was collected through repeated questionnaires completed by the parents about respiratory infections and gastroenteritis throughout the children’s first 18 months of life.

Less than 1% of children had developed celiac disease after an average of 8.5 years of follow up. In children with 10 or more infections before their second birthday, there was approximately a 30% increased relative risk in celiac disease development, which compared to children with five or less infections before they were 18 months old.

Additionally, the researchers determined consistently increased relative risks for celiac disease in relations to infections between zero and six months of age as well as at six to 18 months of age. The rate was similar among children with several respiratory tract infections and those with many gastrointestinal infections.

“We think there are many pieces to the puzzle that must fit together for someone to develop celiac disease, where heredity, gluten intake, and possibly many other environmental factors are important,” author Karl Marild explained in a press release. “This study provides better understanding to people with the disease and their practitioners on one significant aspect of the likely multi factorial celiac disease etiology. Perhaps having frequent infections in early life influences the immune system so that it is subsequently more likely to react to gluten.”

The researchers continued they were unable to study children without celiac disease diagnoses — leaving out those children with undetected celiac disease. The researchers said they were then unable to rule out any apparent link between celiac disease development and increased health care surveillance, such as diagnostic work up for celiac disease among the children with high infection frequency.

Some prior studies have demonstrated that there are links between childhood infections and subsequently developed celiac disease, but not all, the study authors added. The researchers believe that this study is important not only because it is a prospective study — in that the infections were reported prior to celiac disease diagnosis – but also because the results may be able to contribute better understanding of the disease onset in the future and potentially provide routes for preventative measures.