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Update for people with coeliac disease: March 17, 2020

Since writing this post, the escalating situation and new Government announcements has put people with coeliac disease in the ‘high risk’ category. Please see Coeliac UK’s latest statement here for the most up-to-date guidance for people with coeliac disease.

I will no longer be updating this post so please check this link and the NHS guidelines below for the latest advice. The latest NHS guidelines on coronavirus can be found here.

If anyone is struggling to get hold of gluten free essentials, or has some they can spare to help those in need, I have started a Thread of Kindness in my private Facebook group. Please use this to spread a little love and maybe we can all help each other through this with some good ol’ community spirit!

Below is a really handy guide to what exactly social distancing means for those who are at high risk. Source: Guidance on Social Distancing.


Original post (March 6, 2020)

The Coronavirus, I know, it’s probably all you’ve heard about lately.

But every day I am seeing people posting in gluten free Facebook groups about the coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19) and whether they should be worried about catching it.


For those who have been living in an absolute bubble – firstly, I envy you. Secondly, the coronavirus outbreak is pretty much the only thing anyone is talking about right now, so welcome to the party.

While the coronavirus has really brought out the best of some people in generating some fantastic Twitter memes, it’s also caused a lot of panic and anxiety. Anxiety which, I would argue, is spreading way faster than the virus itself.

The fact is, coronavirus is still in essentially the very early stages, and at the time of writing (March 6, 2020) the UK currently has just over 100 cases. In a population of over 66 million. So let’s just put that into perspective for a moment.

coronavirus and coeliac disease empty soap shelves

Time to start panic buying soap?

Can we please talk about this mass panic buying of soap and toilet rolls? I mean, are people not washing their hands anyway? Is using soap and water a new-found novelty to some people?

Two weeks ago I bought four bottles of limited edition Squashies soap from Home Bargains as a joke for my boyfriend because they are his favourite sweet. Little did I know how ahead of the trend I was!

And let’s not even start on those idiots (or the next stars of The Apprentice?) who have cleared the shelves of hand sanitiser and are now flogging it on eBay at an inflated price.

The joke’s on you folks, apparently soap and water is much more effective anyway!

But, we digress. Let’s start with the basics.

What is coronavirus (COVID-19)?

COVID-19 is a member of the coronavirus family, but one which has never been encountered before.

It is thought to have come from animals and the original infection began in people who worked or frequently shopped in the Huanan seafood wholesale market in the Chinese city. This is now what has been described as ‘the epicentre’ of the virus.

According to The Guardian (one of the only newspapers I actually trust) the global death toll was 3,190 (as of March 4) while more than 93,000 people have been infected in more than 80 countries.

In fact, for the most updated facts and figures, I’d certainly urge you to bookmark this page and avoid all those ridiculous Facebook posts doing the rounds.

So why the big panic about coronavirus?

There seem to be several factors spurring such a big panic over COVID-19 but the main factor arguably is the unknown.

This virus is new. How contagious it is, how fatal it is – all of this is yet to be discovered. And we all know people don’t like the unknown.

At this stage, there is no vaccination for COVID-19, though it sounds like they’re busy beavering away working on one.

So what’s the deal with coeliac disease and coronavirus? Should we be more worried than most?

coeliac disease and coronavirus wash hands

Coeliac disease and coronavirus

The thing which I know is worrying a lot of people is the commonly used ‘don’t worry, unless you’re old or immunosuppressed you don’t need to panic’.

Which is great – but are we saying those people are just indispensable? And what happens if you are immunosuppressed? What about coeliac disease and coronavirus?

Coeliac UK has (an understandably short) statement on its website given the newness of the coronavirus. Let’s not forget – so much of this is unknown at the moment.

The charity says: “NHS Choices has stated that older people and people with pre-existing medical conditions are more likely to become severely ill with the virus.

“As coronavirus is a new illness, there is no research specifically looking at the risk to people with coeliac disease.”

coeliac disease and coronavirus autoimmune healthy immune system

Why do people with coeliac disease need vaccines?

I always knew I needed to have the flu jab for my coeliac disease – and because I have other autoimmune conditions it’s been recommended I have the pneumococcal vaccine too.

I’ve never know the reason behind this until now.

Coeliac UK says: “Certain vaccinations are recommended for people with coeliac disease. The basis for this recommendation is that around 30% of people with coeliac disease have reduced spleen function.

“The spleen has an important role in the immune system which fights infections. Spleen function is not routinely assessed and so it is recommended that everyone with coeliac disease is offered certain vaccinations.

“Vaccinations are specific to each illness so the vaccinations recommended for people with coeliac disease won’t offer protection against coronavirus.

“However, these vaccinations are really important and protect against infection and this is a timely reminder to check that your vaccinations are up to date and visit your GP to arrange immunisation.”

coeliac disease and coronavirus

What can I do to reduce the risk of coronavirus?

The general consensus is wash your hands! Aside from this, it’s basic common sense. Avoid contact with people who may have coronavirus. Look after yourself.

Basic immune health is super important, in my opinion, if you have coeliac disease anyway.

A few things you can do to help your immune system if you have coeliac disease are:

  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet with lots of fruit and veg.
  • Get enough sleep and try to limit stress.
  • Exercise regularly – avoid intense exercise when you’re ill but regular, gentle exercise is always beneficial.
  • Get outside and get some fresh air. Go for a walk!
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick
  • Wash your hands. Properly. With soap and water.
  • DO NOT RISK EATING GLUTEN. You should never risk this anyway if you have coeliac disease, but damaging your gut is going to set back your general health and wellbeing.

None of this is going to stop you from ever getting ill, but I think it’s important we all give ourselves the best chance to improve our body’s natural defences.

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

So far, those who have fallen ill with coronavirus have reported symptoms of coughs, fever and breathing difficulties.

It is thought the majority of people who do contract this will only have a mild case, which could mean being ill for around a week, as with a cold or the flu.

There are also reports that severe cases can cause viral pneumonia, or even organ failure. But let’s not forget that currently mortality rate only sits at around 2%.

If there is a chance that you could have coronavirus do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital, instead, you should:

England – call 111 or use 111 online coronavirus service.

Scotland – call your GP or  111 (NHS 24) if it’s closed.

Wales – call 111 (if available in your area) or 0845 46 47.

Northern Ireland – call 111 or 0300 200 7885.

More information is available from NHS Choices and the UK Government website.

Sources: Coeliac UK, NHS Choices, The Guardian. All information correct as of March 6, 2020. Please note I have no medical background, but have researched all information thoroughly.

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About Sarah Howells

Hi, I'm Sarah! Diagnosed with coeliac disease 20 years ago, I'm on a mission to create the best gluten free recipes since sliced bread. No fruit salads or dry brownies here.

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1 Comment

  1. I don’t think the phrase ‘sick to death’ is at all appropriate given the context of this blog post…