Celiac.com 06/30/2008 - The results of a Hungarian study published recently in the June issue of Pediatrics suggest that people with untreated celiac disease show abnormal resistance to the hepatitis B (HBV) vaccine, while celiac patients on a gluten-free diet show a near normal response to the vaccine.
A team of doctors led by Dr. Eva Nemes, at the University of Debrecen, administered 2 to 3 doses of recombinant HBV vaccine to 128 patients with celiac disease and an age matched control group of 113 non-celiac patients within a 6-month period. Twenty-two of the celiac patients were following a gluten-free diet when they received the vaccine.
One month after the last HBV vaccination, the team took blood samples to look for anti-HBV antibodies. The group of 22 patients who received the vaccination while on a gluten-free diet had a sero-conversion rate of 95.5%, which means that more than 9 out of 10 patients developed the desired resistance to hepatitis B.
The other 106 patients with celiac disease, as well as the control group, were vaccinated at approximately 14 years of age, and their immune response was evaluated by measuring anti-HBV titers about two years later. Of the 106 subjects with celiac disease, seventy had been diagnosed and were maintaining a strict gluten-free diet when they were vaccinated, twenty-seven were undiagnosed and untreated, and nine were diagnosed, but not following a gluten-free diet.
The seventy subjects with celiac disease that was diagnosed and treated showed a sero-conversion rate of 61.4%. Given the size of the study samples, that’s not significantly different from the 75.2% sero-conversion rate for the control group.
The big difference arose in those subjects with undiagnosed celiac disease, who showed a response rate of just below 26%, which was substantially lower than the control group and the treated celiac patients. The nine patients with active celiac disease who were not faithfully following a gluten-free diet showed a response rate of 44.4%. The thirty-seven subjects with celiac disease who had failed to respond to the vaccine were placed on a gluten-free diet and given a follow-up vaccine. One month later 36 of them (over 97%) showed a positive response to the vaccine.
The team concluded that the positive response to the vaccine by celiac patients who were following a gluten-free diet, and the high resistance shown by subjects with undiagnosed celiac disease, and those not following a gluten-free diet, indicates that active celiac disease may play a major role in a failure to respond to the vaccine.
The team recommends that newly diagnosed patients be checked for resistance to the HBV vaccine, and that those showing resistance be placed on a gluten-free diet before receiving a follow-up dose. They did not go so far as to suggest that those showing resistance to the HBV vaccine be screened for celiac disease, but that would not seem unreasonable, given their results.
Pediatrics 2008; 121:e1570-e1576.