Objectives: Up to now, the epidemiological characteristic of celiac disease among adults in South America remains unknown. The present prospective screening was designed to determine the prevalence of celiac disease in adults from the general population in an urban area of Argentina.
Methods: Between January. 1998, and May, 2000, all couples attending a centralized laboratory for an obligatory prenuptial examination in the La Plata area were offered participation in a screening program for celiac disease. The study included 2000 subjects (996 women; median age 29 yr, range 16-79 yr). All individuals completed a clinical questionnaire at the time that serum samples were obtained. A three-step screening protocol was used, as follows: 1) all samples were tested for antigliadin antibodies (AGAs) (type IgA and IgG); 2) samples that were IgA AGA positive were tested for antiendomysial antibody (EmA type IgA); samples that were positive for AGA-G but negative for IgA AGAs were tested for total IgA serum levels and EmA type IgG; and 3) subjects who were EmA-positive were referred for intestinal biopsy.
Results: At the end of the screening we detected 10 subjects who were EmA-A positive and two others who were IgA-deficient (both were EmA-G positive). Up to now, 11 of the 12 subjects (including nine EmA-positive and two IgA-deficient subjects) had endoscopic intestinal biopsies showing the characteristic celiac histology. The remaining EmA-positive individual was considered to be affected by celiac disease. The overall prevalence assessed was 1:167 (6.0 x 1000 subjects; 95% CI = 3.1-10.5). Eight of the 12 (67%) subjects were female (1:124; 8.0 x 1000; 95% CI = 3.5-15.8) and four (33%) were male (1:251; 4.0 x 1000; 95% Cl = 1.1-10.2). Although eight new patients were considered to be asymptomatic, three presented with a subclinical course and one was classically symptomatic. Only one patient had been previously diagnosed with celiac disease.
Conclusions: Our screening protocol showed a very high prevalence of celiac disease for an urban area of Argentina that is ethnically similar to 90% of the general population of the country. The prevalence among women was double that for men, and the heterogeneous clinical picture of new patients showed predominance of asymptomatic cases.