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How Antibody Tests Assist in Diagnosing Celiac Disease

by Raul Buman

Many children and adults suffer from celiac disease, a genetic immune disorder characterized by the body’s abnormal response to gluten. The gravity of this disease becomes apparent when one considers the great number of foods and manufactured products that contain gluten. While wheat, rye and barley are the most obvious and well known, many people fail to realize that the substance also occurs in many vitamins and medicines.

In response to the presence of gluten, celiac disease produces an inflammatory response that ravages the villi lining the small intestine. The villi play an essential role in the digestive process, and their damage impairs the body’s ability to absorb nutrients.

Celiac disease also encourages the production of antibodies, a fact that led to the development of blood tests to detect their presence. Physicians now credit antibody testing with enabling them to detect a substantially larger number of celiac cases in children.


Prior to the advent of antibody testing, when custom antibody production wasn’t available to scientists as it is today, physicians suspected celiac disease mainly when babies and young children presented with the typical manifestations of intractable diarrhea and weight loss. Testing has since shown that celiac disease can announce its presence through a much wider range of symptoms. These include acid reflux vomiting, abdominal pain and constipation, all of which are indicators of atypical celiac disease.

The detection of these antibodies is not, by itself, diagnostic. Only an internal biopsy of the small intestine can make that determination. The discovery of damage to the villi in this area will confirm the diagnosis.

A study referenced in the journal Pediatrics found that following the 1997 introduction of antibody testing, physicians diagnosed celiac disease at a rate three times greater than had previously been the case. Moreover, most of the children so diagnosed had never presented with the classic symptoms.

The study concerned 266 children referred for internal biopsy to Alberta Children’s Hospital in Canada. It compared the number of diagnoses made between 1990 and 1996, before antibody testing, with those made later.

In the earlier group, only 36 children, most of whom were about 2 years of age, received a diagnosis of celiac disease. Over two-thirds of them had shown classic symptoms of the disorder.

Between 2000 and 2006, however, 199 children, some as old as 9 years, were diagnosed with the disease. Only 19 percent of them had presented with classic symptoms. Thirty-eight percent had complained of such atypical indicators as abdominal pain and constipation, and 15 percent showed only poor growth and iron deficiency.

Perhaps most telling, however, was the fact that 28 percent of the diagnosed children had received the original antibody testing only because of familial risk factors. They had complained of no symptoms whatsoever.

Many physicians now recommend antibody testing for all children who suffer from chronic digestive problems. Although there is no cure for celiac disease, adherence to a gluten-free diet will enable sufferers who are aware of the problem to manage the disease.

Batman Might Be In Trouble With His Bat Buddies, Bats Carry More Viruses Than Rats

by Raul Buman

“Quick! To the Batmobile, Robin! There’s bat viruses afoot!”

batmanwatchoutIt sounds like Batman must have read the new study from Colorado State University, situated in Fort Collins, Colorado, indicating bats carry a larger number of transferable mammal-to-human viruses than do other rodent species. This finding is both intriguing and troubling, raising new questions concerning what this may mean for humans in areas with large human and bat populations.

In 2003, the SARS virus erupted on a global scale, bringing attention to viruses capable of jumping from one species to another. The SARS virus, in particular, was linked back to bat contagion.

Angela Luis is one of the scientists in Colorado who compared virus studies on the 1000-plus species of bats with virus studies on the 2000-plus species of rodents. Their study concluded that any single species of bats carries an average of 1.79 viruses known to also be capable of infecting humans. Rodents, meanwhile, carry an average of 1.48 viruses which are known to infect humans.

Bats live in large groups called colonies. Colonies of bats often number in the hundreds of thousands, and sometimes well into the millions. Batman and Robin would probably not enjoy living like their bat cousins live, grouped together in large caverns and caves, and often sharing their abodes with bats of other species unlike themselves.

Scientists noticed that bats sharing a region with other bat species carried a higher number of viruses than those who didn’t. They theorize sharing and intermingling in roosts may be part of the reason for the higher virus rate. Other rodents don’t group themselves together with other species not their own.
To Worry or Not To Worry, That Is The Question

EcoHealth Alliance is a non-profit in New York City working in the Environmental Health sector. Kevin Olival, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist at Ecohealth, cautions, “Many people would say the jury is still out on whether or not they are the most important group of mammals.” He reminds us there are many other groups of animals to consider.


Jonathan Epstein is an veterinary epidemiologist with EcoHealth Alliance points out we still have a lot to learn about bat’s immune systems and about their physiology. He is interested in whether bats are more capable of carrying these species-transferrable viruses than rodents.
Batman Might Be Getting A Dirty Rap

Bats, overall, are good for the environments in which they live. They keep insect pest populations in check and save farmers a considerable sum on pesticides and insecticides, not to mention the environmental toll of such toxins. Bats help, along with bees and birds, to pollinate our plants and trees. Perhaps the real problem is human encroachment on bat’s territories, creating a unique opportunity for species-jumping viruses to thrive.