Face mask to protect against viral infections with COVID-19 protection printed on the bottom.

Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) genes are often associated with certain conditions. They can also affect both the susceptibility and the severity of viral infections.

HLA DQ2 and HLA DQ8 are the HLA genes associated with coeliac disease. One or both of these genes are present in most people with coeliac disease.

A small study by researchers in Italy suggests that the HLA DQ2 and DQ8 genes may actually help protect individuals from developing viral infections including SARS-CoV-2 (COVID 19).

For the study (published in The Annals of Medicine), 191 coeliac patients completed a questionnaire on their current clinical status, psychological effects and management of the gluten-free diet during the COVID-19 pandemic and questions regarding possible SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Of the 191 participants with coeliac disease, 64.9% of respondents underwent diagnostic testing for SARS-CoV-2. Of those tested, only 5.8% received a diagnosis of COVID-19 and most (94.8%) developed no symptoms. None of the study participants required hospitalisation or intensive care.

“The hypothesis that the HLA DQ2 and/or DQ8 haplotype plays a protective role against SARS-CoV-2 infection, as against other viral infections, is intriguingly suggestive,” conclude the authors of the study.