child with thermometer in their mouth, infection and celiac disease

Celiac disease is an intolerance to the protein gluten found in wheat, barley and rye. It triggers the immune system to attack and damage the lining of the digestive tract. Doctors have long known that celiac disease develops only in those who have a genetic susceptibility, but not everyone with those genes actually develops the condition. What triggers it? New data suggest a connection between infection and celiac disease.

A Study Links Enterovirus Infection and Celiac Disease:

Norwegian researchers have found that genetically susceptible youngsters who contracted an enterovirus infection between the ages of three months and three years were significantly more likely to develop celiac disease (Kahrs et al, BMJ, Feb. 14, 2019). They examined stool samples to detect the viral infection.

Infections with adenovirus had no effect on the risk of celiac disease. The damaging enterovirus infections were those that occurred after the child was already eating foods containing gluten. If they occurred before gluten exposure, they did not seem to increase the risk. Babies who were still getting breast milk as an important part of their diets appeared to be protected. Most of the infections did not cause symptoms.

What Is an Enterovirus Infection?

Enteroviruses usually cause mild illnesses. Infected children may run a fever and have sniffles or a cough, though most infections, as in this study, are asymptomatic. Parents may recognize some specific enterovirus infections such as hand, foot and mouth disease that causes uncomfortable rashes on young children’s hands, feet and around and in their mouths. A type of coxsackievirus causes this common childhood illness. The Norwegian scientists looked specifically for Enteroviruses A, B, C and D. Only A and B infections were common. This is where they found the link between infection and celiac disease developing later. 

The researchers conclude

“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.”

Diagnosing Celiac Disease:

Sometimes people suffer symptoms for years before the doctors conclude that they are caused by celiac disease. One reader reported such an experience.

Q. People who have very smelly poop or gas that could knock a train off the tracks may have celiac disease. That was my problem, and a totally gluten-free diet cured the stinky poo/gas as well as many other symptoms.

A. Celiac disease causes many symptoms in addition to abdominal bloating and foul-smelling stool. Some people discover they have celiac disease after being diagnosed with osteoporosis at an unusually early age. In addition, nervous system problems such as migraines, seizures, depression or peripheral neuropathy might all signal celiac disease. (

In this condition, exposure to gluten found in barley, rye and wheat triggers an autoimmune reaction that slowly destroys the lining of the digestive tract. Other common symptoms include anemia, fatigue, unexplained aches and pains, chronic canker sores and migraine headaches. A blood test is the first step in diagnosis.

Learn More:

We discuss celiac disease as a cause of gastrointestinal distress in our Guide to Digestive Disorders. Anyone who would like a copy can download a pdf electronic version for $2 at this link.

While you are on the website, you might also check out our hour-long interview with Joseph Murray, MD: Show 1100: What Is the Story on Celiac Disease?  Moreover, in Show 964, Alessio Fasano, MD, one of the world’s pre-eminent experts on celiac disease and gluten sensitivity shares some fascinating insights on this condition and describes a healthy diet for people who must avoid gluten. If you would like an mp3 version of the show, here is a link to Show # 964. If you would rather listen to this interview on a CD, here is a link to that format.

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  1. Eileen

    Interesting. Along the same line, I believe an infection is what activated my daughter’s Ulcerative Colitis. She was genetically susceptible but I do not believe it would have emerged without the trigger of an infection that preceded it.

  2. Carey

    I read an article about various traumas inducing Celiac Disease, and infection was included. I think this can apply to various health problems a person may have the potential of getting. Over the years I have become more convinced of this. Repetitive stress injury brought out my fibromyalgia. My mother’s COPD did not emerge until immediately after a car accident.

  3. Kathy
    Holly Springs, NC

    Wow. This is so on-target with my daughter’s experience. She has three autoimmune diseases – (in order of diagnosis): Type 1 diabetes one week before her third birthday, Hashimoto’s disease (hypothyroidism), and celiac disease. We had already determined that she likely had hand, foot, and mouth disease weeks or months before her diabetes diagnosis. She was also a long-term breastfeeder but had weaned a few months before diabetes diagnosis. She recently told me (she’s 30 now) that she believes had she been on a gluten-free diet from when she first started solids that she would not have developed celiac or the other diseases. Makes you wonder.

  4. Rhonda

    Those who have been diagnosed with Epstein Barr virus have also been diagnosed with a gluten intolerance or celiac disease as well.

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