Coronavirus! Are People with Celiac Disease At Greater Risk?

coronavirus celiac diseaseThe Beyond Celiac Science Team provides evidence-based answers to the most frequently asked coronavirus questions.

  • Claire Baker, Beyond Celiac 1

Are people with celiac disease at greater risk for coronavirus? Is hand sanitizer safe for people with celiac disease? These are just two of the top questions the science team at Beyond Celiac is diligently working to answer as concerns about the novel coronavirus COVID-19 multiply and those with celiac disease – a serious genetic autoimmune disease that affects an estimated 1 in 133 Americans – search online for updated evidence-based information and guidance.

As the leading organization working to advance research and accelerate development of new treatments and a cure for celiac disease, Beyond Celiac launched a Celiac Disease and Coronavirus page on its website on March 9, 2020 that has received more than 41,000 page views.

  • “Information around COVID-19 is constantly evolving, and people with celiac disease have important questions about their risk of contracting the virus and developing a severe illness,” said Salvo Alesci, MD, PhD, Beyond Celiac Chief Scientist and Strategy Officer. “In addition, they are looking for guidance about potential food and medicine choices and how to best care for themselves and those around them.”

Introducing the Beyond Celiac Science Team:

  • Salvo, Ken Kilgore, PhD, MBA, chief scientific investment officer
  • Alan Ehrlich, MD, Beyond Celiac board chair
  • Kate Avery, MPH, director of research and patient engagement
  • Amy Ratner, medical and science news analyst at

Below are a few of the most-searched questions:

Are people with celiac disease “immunocompromised” and thus at higher risk for coronavirus?

People with celiac disease who are otherwise healthy are not immunocompromised and not at higher risk for coronavirus. The immune system of someone with celiac disease activates in response to gluten when it shouldn’t. The immune system is over-active rather than suppressed. In contrast, the immune system of someone who is immunocompromised doesn’t react when it should. It is less effective at fighting off germs like those causing the flu and the coronavirus.

Under what conditions might a person with celiac disease be at elevated risk for coronavirus?

If you are taking corticosteroids and other immunosuppressant medications, you are at increased risk for coronavirus. While not typically used for celiac disease, these medications are often used to treat other autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, which those with celiac disease are at higher risk of also having.

What if I get glutened? Does that make me more at risk?

When you get glutened, your immune system reacts to the gluten in the same way it would to a germ. At this time, there’s not compelling scientific evidence that shows that the reaction to gluten keeps your immune system from responding to other threats, including virus infections, or amplifies the immune response to a viral threat. Nevertheless, we recommend that you continue to carefully avoid getting glutened.

Is hand sanitizer safe for people with celiac disease?

Yes, hand sanitizer is safe for those with celiac disease to use. Most hand sanitizers do not contain gluten. Additionally, research has found that gluten cannot be absorbed through the skin. So as long as you do not apply it to an open wound and you’re taking care to not ingest it, hand sanitizer should be safe.

  • “These are challenging times for everyone, and those with serious chronic medical conditions are especially interested in learning everything they can about precautions they can take or risk factors they should avoid,” said Beyond Celiac CEO Alice Bast. “At Beyond Celiac, we encourage people to keep referencing our page, the CDC, the NIH and National Health Council for the latest information, as well as to join us on our social channels as we discuss gluten-free living in the time of coronavirus.”

About Beyond Celiac

Founded in 2003, Beyond Celiac is the leading patient advocacy and research-driven celiac disease organization working to drive diagnosis, advance research and accelerate the discovery of new treatments and a cure. By engaging with the top scientists in the field, making the right investments in research and supporting the community, Beyond Celiac envisions a world in which people with celiac disease can live healthy lives and eat without fear – a world Beyond Celiac.

About Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is a serious genetic autoimmune disease that affects an estimated 1 in 133 Americans, more than half of whom are still undiagnosed. The disease causes damage to the small intestine, resulting in debilitating symptoms, and if left untreated, can lead to serious long-term health problems including infertility and some types of cancer.