COELIAC disease could be triggered with a common, harmless virus - experts have found.
The reovirus - which is only thought to cause mild or harmless symptoms in humans, can trigger the immune system response to gluten that leads to ceoliac disease.
New research from the University of Chicago and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found the virus can trigger not only coeliac disease, but also type 1 diabetes, which could mean the conditions could be prevented with a vaccine.
"This study clearly shows that a virus that is not clinically symptomatic can still do bad things to the immune system and set the stage for an autoimmune disorder, and for ceoliac disease in particular," study senior author Bana Jabri, professor in the Department of Medicine and Pediatrics at the university, told Science Daily.
"However, the specific virus and its genes, the interaction between the microbe and the host, and the health status of the host are all going to matter as well."
Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease - not an allergy or a food intolerance.
It is caused by a reaction to gluten which is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley.
A person suffering with coeliac disease can damage the lining of their gut if they eat gluten and if a gluten-free diet is not followed forever, the disease can lead to nutritional deficiencies and is linked with osteoporosis, cancer of the small bowel and unexplained fertility problems.
The disease cannot be cured and there is no medication - the only answer is to cut gluten out altogether.
The study revealed that intestinal viruses can cause the immune system to overreact to gluten and trigger the development of celiac disease.