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Jane Anderson

Study Finds Celiac Disease Patients Have Higher Flu Hospitalization Risk

By December 3, 2013

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It's time for annual flu shots, as Kristina Duda, R.N., About.com's Guide to Cold & Flu, reminds us. And there may be good reason for people who have celiac disease to get that flu shot: a study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology found an increased risk of hospital admission for influenza in people with celiac disease.

The study, which came out of Sweden in 2010, compared influenza-related hospital admissions in three separate groups of patients. These included a group of 29,008 patients who had a celiac disease diagnosis with a Marsh score of 3, indicating fairly severe intestinal damage; a group of 13,200 individuals who had Marsh scores of 1 to 2 (inflammation but no villous atrophy) on their celiac disease biopsies; and a group of 3,709 people with positive celiac blood tests but a normal biopsy. The researchers also compared results with 224,114 control subjects from the general population.

The study found both adults and children who had been diagnosed with celiac disease with Marsh scores of 3 were at increased risk of hospital admission for influenza when compared to the general population, as were individuals with Marsh scores of 1 to 2. Individuals with normal intestinal mucosa but positive celiac disease blood tests were not at any higher risk for hospitalization from influenza than the control group.

From the results of this study, it looks like anyone who's been diagnosed with celiac disease might want to consider getting a flu shot, especially if they're in a high-risk group otherwise (high-risk individuals include children, older adults and people with impaired immune systems, among others).

Still, I have to say, since I adopted a strict gluten-free diet, I very rarely get sick. That's welcome relief, because back in my gluten-eating days, I'd catch every bug going around, and I'd generally suffer from it more than everyone else, too.

In the comments, let us know: Will you be getting a flu shot this year? If you've been gluten-free for a while, do you tend to get sick more or less often than you did before?

Keep up with the latest in the celiac disease/gluten sensitivity world -- sign up for my newsletter, connect with me on Facebook and Google+, or follow me on Twitter - @AboutGlutenFree.

Photo © Getty Images/Peter Dazeley

Comments
October 19, 2010 at 2:11 pm
(1) GF Mom says:

Thank you for the article. I was diagnosed with celiac two years ago and have skipped the flu shot ever since thinking it might not be wise to introduce anything unnecessarily to my system. But the study you point out has made me reconsider. I think I’ll at least do the FluMist spray this year.

As a side note, I used to get sick with some virus going around the office three to four times a year before my diagnosis. Before I could get over the bug, I would end up with sinusitis which would land me in the pharmacy with a perscription for some strong antibiotics. Those antibiotics really messed with my whole digestive system, landing me in the ER with an esophagial spasm. Now, I eat gluten-free and use a netti pot. I still occasionally get sinusitis, but only rarely due to allergies.

October 25, 2010 at 10:50 am
(2) Sandra Rieser says:

Diagnosed severely damaged Celiac in 1976. I was highly susceptible to flu, most often it would escalate to pneumonia and chronic bronchitis. Doctor insisted I get a flu shot every year in future and I have been free of flu, colds, etc. ever since. However, one year due to a family crisis I failed to get the vaccine, contracted influenza and was sick for 4 months with complications. With that one exception, diligently getting my flu shot every year now I am free from all upper respiratory afflictions. I believe we all should get the shots without question.

October 23, 2012 at 5:48 pm
(3) KBS says:

I was diagnosed last year with a Marsh score of 3. I have gotten a flu shot every year for many years, but two years ago I got walloped with the flu even though I’d gotten the shot–it was 6 weeks before I was back to normal. Hopefully now that I’m eating gluten free, the shot will generate more of an immune response than it did that year.

October 25, 2012 at 8:42 pm
(4) Carol says:

I have celiac but haven’t had flu for many years. Last flu shot was in the 80′s and took my sense of taste and smell away for about 8 years so I am reluctant to have another. Think I will pass again this year and stick to my usual approach–hand washing, good diet, adequate sleep and avoid crowds as much as possible

October 25, 2012 at 9:45 pm
(5) carolmielke says:

I have celiac disease and got the shot yesterday. I’ve been getting it for the last few years as I used to get chronic chest infections. There are people out there now coughing and I don’t go near them, I back away if possible. I do agree that hand washing is great but what about our lips and nose. The germs find their way if they want to or if you are run down or susceptible. It seems to protect me and now my husband got it too for this year and last to help protect me
Eat well, sleep well and exercise, this also helps. I do yoga every day which wards off my fibromyalgia pain and have less fatigue since I have given up wheat.
Sincerely,
Carol.

October 26, 2012 at 2:03 am
(6) Clarissa Parry says:

My daughter and I were diagnosed nine years ago with Celiac and we always had Bronchial Pneumonia every year like clock work. However, now we do not get sick anymore. Before, we would pay of our yearly medical deductable off really fast. However, now we never even get close to using up our deductable and that is a blessing!
No, I will not get the Flu Shot and agree with GF Mom, in that I don’t want anymore medicine to be introduced into my body. There are about 250 types of Flu out there and the Flu Shot covers one of them. I will take my chances and eat healthy, get my sleep and exercise. I strictly follow the, “4 Your Type” and eat foods recommend for Blood Type O’s, by Dr. D’Adamo and eat only the Highly Beneficial foods.
Thank you for the article!
Clarissa

October 26, 2012 at 2:09 am
(7) Clarissa Parry says:

My daughter and I were diagnosed nine years ago with Celiac and we always had Bronchial Pneumonia every year like clock work. However, now we do not get sick anymore. Before, we would pay of our yearly medical deductable off really fast. However, now we never even get close to using up our deductable and that is a blessing!
No, I will not get the Flu Shot and agree with GF Mom, in that I don’t want anymore medicine to be introduced into my body. I will take my chances and eat healthy, get my sleep and exercise. I strictly follow the, “4 Your Type” and eat foods recommend for Blood Type O’s, by Dr. D’Adamo and eat only the Highly Beneficial foods.
Thank you for the article!
Clarissa

February 5, 2013 at 9:46 pm
(8) Laura L says:

When I was eating gluten before I found out, I was sick all the time, with flu and colds etc. Now that I have been gluten free for three years, I haven’t had so many. In fact, when I get a cold it lasts only a day or two, compared to friends that lasts weeks sometimes. I feel like my immune system is higher.

I read on a website that people with this disease have an over active immune system, so it’s NOT low, it’s the opposite in fact!!! Good news for us.

I will not be taking the flu vaccine as it contains animal products and I am a vegetarian (chicken feathers apparently).

October 14, 2013 at 6:53 am
(9) Maureen says:

Used to pick up every flu and cold bug. Since glutenfree none.

November 18, 2013 at 9:42 am
(10) SeeLeeAck says:

I was never overly poorly before CD and haven’t been since diagnosis. I’m told I must have the flu jab because of my t2 diabetes.

December 3, 2013 at 1:06 pm
(11) Fredko says:

Since I’m gluten free (5 months, exactly), I haven’t feel sick at all; after a life of having to avoid cold wind and have to take shower only during the daylight time, ans suffering every 2 months of flu and other
I’m not getting anything this season and see how It goes, but so far I’ve been great, Is almost like a miracle :)

December 3, 2013 at 1:47 pm
(12) Mandy says:

Since I gave up gluten I have not gotten ill thank goodness. Gluten really triggered asthma symptoms that led to bronchitis with the simplest little virus.
Plus the egg thing that the flu shot is made of plus it’s based on last year’s viruses (guessing for the current year)- I don’t get them.

December 6, 2013 at 11:37 am
(13) julia creighton says:

Thankyou for this most valuable information Jane. I do get a flu shot every year and now in Canada it is getting even easier to get it as it is being offered in pharmacies as well as community centres and doctors’ offices. Julia

December 6, 2013 at 3:53 pm
(14) Helen Schilling says:

I have been on a gluten free and sugar free diet for almost 4 years, after being diagnosed as having a gluten sensitivity, I was suffering from severe bloating, gas, and stomach problems, but since changing my diet, I have never felt better.
I researched the ingredients in the flu vaccine and refuse to be vaccinated. It has been proven to only be 50% effective, and contains traces of mercury and other ingredients I don’t want to subject my body to, as it is very sensitive.
I volunteered at a local hospital for over 12 years, and resigned rather than subjecting myself to the mandated flu vaccine last year.
I also have temporal lobe epilepsy, and my seizures have been lessened since I’m on a gluten free diet. In fact, I have been seizure free for four months now, and I have never been seizure free for more than 10 weeks in my whole life!

December 6, 2013 at 8:48 pm
(15) Claudia says:

I work in health care, so I got a flu shot. I have Celiac disease and don’t want to get sick.

December 7, 2013 at 7:57 am
(16) Gluten Free & Happy says:

I have celiac disease and a secondary sensitivity to many things. I used to get the flu shot because I am a healthcare worker. But the last 2 times I got it, I got a rash on my arms. And also such a tightness in my chest (like asthma). I eat healthy, take lots of Vitamin D and definitely will NOT get that shot. The efficacy of it is not great. It only works for a couple of strains that they are guestimating, but are often incorrect. Being that we are all more sensitive than regular people (without celiac disease) we should be more cautious of what we put in our bodies. There are some serious risks of the flu vaccine. Watch the videos on this link and make a more informed choice : )
http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/09/18/flu-shot-increases-flu-illness.aspx

December 23, 2013 at 7:40 pm
(17) Diane says:

I was diagnosed with celiac about 10 years ago and I’m on a strict gluten free diet. Most years I do not get the flu shot, but this year I had it 4 days ago and now I have a fever of 101, which apparently is caused by a reaction to the flu shot. I’m a bit sorry I had the shot just before Christmas because I feel sick. Hoping to feel better tomorrow. I have not had flu, ever, even though I don’t usually get the shot. Hard to know what to do.

December 29, 2013 at 8:41 pm
(18) jesskazen says:

I noticed this year, my 1st being gluten free, that I didn’t get a cold when everyone else at school was extremely ill. I was glutened, got my Dermatitis Herpetiformis rash, then got so sick that I had to go to the hospital. I had accute bronchitis (the usual) and rattling in my left lung without pneumonia (also the usual).

It seems that when I don’t eat gluten I don’t get most colds, but prior to my diagnosis I was sick, non stop, most of the year, in and out of the hospital, and had pneumonia so many times that I had to get the vaccine.

March 19, 2014 at 11:30 am
(19) T. says:

All your comments have been helpful. I came across this site because I am sick and tired of being sick and tired. I did get the flu shot in Nov. 2013, I have not had the flu but I OFTEN get severe colds. I also have been diagnosed with pneumonia at least once each year.
I was diagnosed with Celiac about 6 years ago but am compliant (GF) only 4 days per week. I also have asymptomatic sarcoid.
After reading all your comments, I realize that I must begin a GF lifestyle.

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