07/04/2017 3:35 PM AEST | Updated 07/04/2017 3:38 PM AEST

Coeliac Disease May Be Caused By A Virus, New Study Finds

If found to be true, scientists may be able to develop a vaccine to prevent it.

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For people with Coeliac disease, eating everyday foods like bread can create debilitating illness.

A seemingly harmless virus contracted as a baby could be behind the development of Coeliac disease, a new study suggests.

The study, published on Friday in Science magazine, suggests that a common strain of the virus called reovirus could play a role in causing your body to turn against gluten.

Coeliac disease is a chronic autoimmune disease, where the body starts attacking the lining of the small intestine every time it is exposed to even a small trace of gluten.

If left undiagnosed, it can result in damage to the small intestine, malabsorption of nutrients, diarrhoea, fatigue, anaemia and osteoporosis.

Currently the only treatment is for sufferers is to cut out gluten entirely. Gluten is found in barley, wheat, rye, which means people with the disease have to cut out bread, pasta, biscuits and cakes, but also many common foods and household items like sauces, dips, meat, confectionery and even certain toothpastes.

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Some Coeliac sufferers experience abdominal pain and diarrhoea, while others have few symptoms.

Previously, Coeliac disease was thought to be caused by genetic factors. A parent, child or sibling of someone with the condition has a 10 per cent chance of developing it too, while an identical twin has a 70 per cent chance.

In the study, the scientists used genetically engineered mice who had been made susceptible to gluten intolerance and infected them with the reovirus strain T1L. The mice went on to have an immune response against gluten consist with that seen in Coeliac disease.

This suggests that the T1L reovirus combined with a genetic susceptibility could be what is causing the disease.

"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 celiac disease in particular," a senior author of the study, Bana Jabri, said.

The reovirus strain is so harmless that often people don't even realise that they've been infected, the study authors said, which could be why it's been overlooked as a factor up until now.

More research needs to be done to confirm the findings, but if true, it could lead to better treatment options for sufferers and even a vaccine to prevent the chronic disease.

Around 1 in 70 people in Australia have the chronic disease, according to Coeliac Australia, but 80 per cent of them have not been diagnosed.