Immunity, Flu, and Celiac


Flu season is approaching. Soon, everyone will be advertising and recommending getting the flu shot. Let’s talk about the flu shot, Hepatitis B, and other recommended vaccines for those with celiac disease.

Because of our autoimmune disease, we have an overactive immune system. Our immune system is in overdrive all the time – fighting gluten molecules and searching for gluten molecules to attack. I like to think of it like soldiers on a battlefield on high alert. The soldiers know something is out there in the dark and are sitting with their eyes scanning the area in front of them with fingers on the trigger just waiting to shoot. Except, the immune system soldiers are focused on the digestive system almost to the exclusion of the other systems.

People often talk about getting colds more often and more severe than their non-celiac counterparts. It is because the immune system is so busy fighting in the gut, it is too busy to fight a cold. By the time the immune system realizes it needs to mount a defense against the cold, the cold has already taken hold and requires greater and greater energy to defeat.

Now imagine the flu and this scenario. Flu is a bad, bad virus. Sometimes it is more devastating than others, but it always a pretty bad virus to get. It kills some people and it can make someone feel really lousy for a long time. Not only that, but a 2010 Swedish study showed that people with celiac are more likely to get hospitalized as a result of the flu.

Also, flu vaccines do not contain gluten. So, that cannot be your excuse. That is the only valid excuse someone with celiac might have for not getting the shot.

The most effective way to prevent getting the flu is washing hands. Washing hands is also one of the most effective ways to prevent getting glutened. Even if you don’t want to get the flu vaccine, just wash your hands often and you will probably be okay!

Just so you know, I’m not just saying this, I live it! I don’t do well with the flu shot. I get a fever, take some acetaminophen, and go to bed early on the days I get a flu shot. For me, I’d rather have 12 hours of misery than be sick for a month or in the hospital because of the flu. Cool fun fact – I play tennis with one of the guys that works at the CDC that helps decide what strains of the virus get into the shot!

I’ll step off the flu vaccine soap box and hop onto the Hepatitis B vaccine box!

For some unknown reason, the Hepatitis B vaccine does not seem to take for those with celiac disease. Hepatitis B is a virus that affects the liver. It can be chronic or short-lived. Anti-virals and inteferon drugs are used to help cure the disease, but the body may not be able to fight it off. Hepatitis B is transmitted through sexual relations, sharing needles, or mother to child via breast milk.

As someone with celiac, Hepatitis B immunity is something to discuss with your doctor. Doctors can run tests to determine if the body has developed immunity to Hepatitis B and re-vaccinate if appropriate.

I believe in vaccines. I know for a fact they work. They have saved millions of lives and eradicated several fatal childhood illnesses. This is not the place for your pseudo-science, conspiracy theory, garbage. I have read the “science” people opposed to vaccines have put out. I believe it to be bunk. There are no peer reviewed journal articles linking vaccines to anything other than cures and sometimes side effects. I would rather take a 1 in 10,000 (worst) to 1 in 1,000,000 (best) rate of side effects than a 2 in 1,000 risk of dying of measles. Here is where I got those numbers.

So, you are now armed with information. Go use it in your lives and have a great gluten free day!

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