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Friday, 16 February, 2001, 00:56 GMT
Less asthma risk for 'sickly' children
Child with inhaler
Repeated viral infections can mean less asthma
Babies who suffer from runny noses and repeated viral infections are at less risk of asthma, say scientists.

Researchers in Germany found that the infections boosted the child's immune system, making them less susceptible.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal, will add to the debate over whether modern hygienic lifestyles and an over-reliance on antibiotics and vaccinations are contributing to the rising asthma rates.

One in seven children aged between two and 15 now has asthma and the number of under fives with the condition has doubled in the past decade.


All of these studies raise the exciting possibility that in future we may be able to give at risk children 'controlled infections' in the form of a vaccination

Dr Martyn Partridge, National Asthma Campaign

Asthma experts hope new research will bring this figure down and that there might soon be a vaccine to protect against the condition.

Dr Martyn Partridge, National Asthma Campaign chief medical adviser, said recent studies like this seemed to suggest a link between early exposure to infections and asthma.

"All of these studies raise the exciting possibility that in future we may be able to give at risk children 'controlled infections' in the form of a vaccination," he said.

Children tracked

The researchers followed a group of 1,314 children at regular intervals from birth up to seven years old to investigate the links between childhood infection and asthma.

They found that children who had experienced two or more episodes of runny nose and viral infection before the age of one faced half the risk of going on to develop asthma compared to those who had not.

However repeated lower respiratory tract infections in the first three years of life were linked with wheezing and the tendency to develop allergies.

The researchers said this suggested that children already predisposed to asthma might be more likely to develop these types of infections.

Immunity boost

An accompanying editorial by Professor Sebastian Johnston, of the Imperial College School of Medicine, said exposure to certain types of dirt could boost a child's immunity.

He said the key to a stronger immune system was knowing how to mimic the effects of dirt in a cleaner environment.

Professor Johnson said that previous research had shown that children from large families, those who grew up on farms or surrounded by animals and those exposed to viruses, were less likely to develop asthma.

"The challenge before us is to find ways of reproducing the protective effects of early childhood infections, while at the same time reducing the burden of serious (and less serious but still troublesome) infectious diseases.

"With increasing numbers of effective vaccines, anti-viral treatments and antibiotics, and with increasing affluence, how can we prevent the continued rise of asthma and atopic disease?

"Knowing exactly which 'dirt' provides the best education for the immune system and how to mimic its effects in a cleaner environment seems to be the key to reversing the rise in atopic diseases," he added.

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See also:

15 Sep 00 | Health
Stress 'makes child asthma worse'
11 Sep 00 | Festival of science
Nano-nose for asthma watch
19 Jul 00 | Health
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11 Jul 00 | Health
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