Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a new virus that can affect the lungs and airways. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states that those at risk are older adults and those with chronic medical conditions, including heart disease, diabetes and lung disease.

Are people with celiac disease at increased risk?

From Columbia University’s Celiac Disease Center:

As coronavirus is a new illness, there is no research specifically looking at the risk to people with celiac disease. Celiac disease is a chronic medical condition in which there appears to be an increased risk of infections with pneumococcal bacteria that cause pneumonia and herpes zoster (causing shingles). In addition, there appears to be increased risk of worse outcomes with influenza infections and an inadequate response to vaccination with hepatitis B. Still, these risks, while measureable in several studies, are small in magnitude. It is reasonable to consider that those with celiac disease, especially older individuals, may be at a small increased risk of worse outcomes with infections with this new virus.

In view of this data, individuals should closely follow the advice of the CDC given to the general population, including hand hygiene and social distancing when possible. In addition, it is important that those with celiac disease ensure they are current with vaccinations and have follow up medical care appropriate for the disease.

From Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Celiac Reserach and Treatment:

Celiac Disease Foundation Medical Advisory Board member, Dr. Alessio Fasano, Director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Celiac Research and Treatment, in his March 13, 2020 video, states that people with celiac disease are not considered immunocompromised, but may be more susceptible to COVID-19 if they have “active celiac disease.” He goes on to say that if celiac disease is well-treated then susceptibility is the same as in the general population.

COVID-19 Symptoms:
  • Fever, cough, and shortness of breath. If you feel like you are developing symptoms, call your doctor.
  • If you develop emergency warning signs for COVID-19 get medical attention immediately. In adults, emergency warning signs include*:
    • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
    • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
    • New confusion or inability to arouse
    • Bluish lips or face

*This list is not all inclusive. Please consult your medical provider for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning.

Children with confirmed COVID-19 have generally presented with mild symptoms. Reported symptoms in children include cold-like symptoms, such as fever, runny nose, and cough. Vomiting and diarrhea have also been reported. It’s not known yet whether some children may be at higher risk for severe illness, for example, children with underlying medical conditions and special healthcare needs.

Vaccinations and Celiac Disease

There is currently no vaccination available for the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Both the flu vaccine, and the pneumococcal vaccine with a booster every five years, are recommended for people with celiac disease to protect against infection. Though Professor John Wilson, president-elect of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and a respiratory physician, states that almost all serious consequences of COVID-19 feature pneumonia, the World Health Organization (WHO) stresses that the pneumococcal vaccine is not effective against COVID-19 pneumonia. WHO does highly recommend vaccination against respiratory illness to protect your health in general, including both the pneumococcal vaccine and the Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib) vaccine.

To protect against other infection, the Celiac Disease Foundation Medical Advisory Board strongly advises people with celiac disease, aged 15-64 years, who have not received the scheduled pneumococcal vaccination series as a child, to consider vaccination. This applies to all people with celiac disease, whether or not they are on a gluten-free diet. View the research study from Medical Advisory Board member Dr. Peter Green, Director of the Colombia Celiac Disease Center, here.

How To Prepare

Because people with celiac disease may be at higher risk for COVID-19, the CDC recommends that you:

  • Stock up on supplies. Click here for a list of gluten-free foods that you may wish to stock up on and here for our gluten-free meal plans.
  • Take everyday precautions to keep space between yourself and others.
  • When you go out in public, keep away from others who are sick, limit close contact and wash your hands often.
  • Avoid crowds as much as possible.
  • Avoid cruise travel and non-essential air travel.
  • During a COVID-19 outbreak in your community, stay home as much as possible to further reduce your risk of being exposed.

What Should You Do if You Think You Might Have COVID-19?

  • Stay home.
  • Call your healthcare provider and let them know about your symptoms. Tell them that you have or may have COVID-19. This will help them take care of you and keep other people from getting infected or exposed.
  • If you are not sick enough to be hospitalized, you can recover at home. Follow CDC instructions for how to take care of yourself at home.
  • Get medical attention immediately if you have any of the emergency warning signs listed above.

If you must be hospitalized, reference our Healthcare Facility Guide for important questions to ask to assure that you are able to maintain a gluten-free diet in the hospital.

For more information, please visit the CDC.