Coeliac disease and coronavirus (COVID-19)

coeliac disease and coronavirus

Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a new illness that can affect the lungs and airways.

As coronavirus is a new illness, there is no research specifically looking at the risk to people with coeliac disease. We are in contact with our Health Advisory Council (HAC), a group of key health experts working in coeliac disease, who continue to advise us as the situation develops. We will keep our information updated as things can change.

A member of our HAC, Dr Peter Gillett is a Consultant Paediatric Gastroenterologist at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Edinburgh and has been providing support to the charity for over 10 years. We asked Dr Gillett for his view on some of the key questions we’ve been receiving on our Helpline and social media networks.

The latest UK Government advice is that we should ‘stay alert’ and there are different guidelines applicable in EnglandScotland , Wales and Northern Ireland

The UK Government has identified two groups who are considered to be vulnerable:

  1. People who are clinically extremely vulnerable, who should follow shielding advice. People with coeliac disease who have no other health conditions do not fall into this category.
  2. People who are clinically vulnerable who should take particular care to minimise contact with others outside of their household. Read on for more on this category and people with coeliac disease.  

Who is classed as clinically vulnerable?

The guidance on who is clinically vulnerable or clinically extremely vulnerable has been updated on the UK Government website and applies to people living in England. Again the advice varies across ScotlandWales and Northern Ireland.

Across the UK, the clinically vulnerable group includes everyone 70 years and over and those under 70 who are instructed to get a flu jab each year on medical grounds. People with coeliac disease are recommended by Public Health England to have an annual flu vaccination on a precautionary basis, but people with coeliac disease are not specifically mentioned in the list of clinically vulnerable people. 

We know that the guidance has been a cause of confusion for our community and we have been in contact with various bodies including the Department of Health and Public Health England. The risk of hyposplenism to children with coeliac disease is very low and the risk for adults is likely to be low, particularly for individuals who have had the recommended pneumococcal vaccination, have been diagnosed and following a strict gluten free diet for several years and are otherwise healthy.

Public Health England has agreed that people with coeliac disease should assess their level of risk on an individual basis with the support of their local healthcare team. Read our FAQ for more information on this.

The Government has also provided advice on shielding for people defined as clinically extremely vulnerable from COVID-19. People with coeliac disease who have no other health conditions do not fall into this category. If you fall into this category because of another health condition, you should have received a letter by Sunday 29 March 2020. If you think you have been sent information on shielding in error, the guidance from the NHS is to check the list of conditions where shielding is recommended. Anyone recommended to shield should register on the Government website so that they can be supported with food parcels or access to priority online delivery slots as appropriate.

If you are confident that this does not apply then the NHS advice is to please ignore the communication. If you still have concerns then please discuss your own circumstances with your GP. More information from the NHS on this issue is available here.

What should I be doing as a patient with coeliac disease to protect me most from Coronavirus?

  • Follow the relevant guidance for your country (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales) which is being updated on a regular basis and is the best place to go to for the latest information and guidance. Follow their advice to try and keep yourself safe.
  • Make sure you follow a strict gluten free diet, which is the treatment for coeliac disease.
    We will continue to be in contact with our Health Advisory Council, a group of key health experts working in coeliac disease, who continue to advise us as the situation develops.
  • Please don’t feel alone. We are here to help and we have a vibrant social media community. We have a range of services to support you on your gluten free diet, including our Coronavirus Hub.

Availability of gluten free food

We continue to work closely with our gluten free food industry contacts to understand how coronavirus might affect the production and supply of gluten free food to make sure that the safety for people with coeliac disease is maintained.

You can find further detail on the work we have been doing in this area and find out how you can help support the gluten free community on our Coronavirus Hub.

What should you do if you think you might have coronavirus?

If you have symptoms including persistent cough, a temperature or a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste, or there is a chance that you could have coronavirus, whether you have coeliac disease or not you should follow the latest advice: