Vaccines cleared in Swedish celiac epidemic

A new study has determined that childhood vaccinations were not responsible for a surge in celiac disease cases among babies and toddlers in Sweden.

Between 1984 and 1996, the incidence of celiac disease in Sweden among children under the age of two rose by four times the normal rate. It ended just as abruptly, and Swedish researchers are still trying to determine what caused the rise, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Particular gene variants appear to make some people more susceptible to celiac disease, a digestive disorder that causes an abnormal immune response to gluten. Researchers, however, are continuing to study what environmental factors influence the disorder's development.

Because infant vaccines stimulate the immune system, they were thought to be a potential cause of the sudden increase in cases. The new study, recently published in the journal Pediatrics, says they were not.

Researchers found that changes in the Swedish national vaccine program did not correspond to the increase in celiac disease cases. The introduction of the pertussis, or whooping cough, vaccine actually corresponded to a decline in celiac incidence, the Chicago Tribune reports.

Dr. Anna Myleus, who led the research, said that understanding the causes of the epidemic could help with celiac prevention. Though the origins of the epidemic remain unknown, Myleus said the use of "follow-on" infant formulas could hold the answer.

The formulas were popular in Sweden during the spike in cases and contained a large amount of wheat.