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Saturday, 26 August, 2000, 00:04 GMT 01:04 UK
Colds 'protect against asthma'
Some 3.4 million people have asthma in the UK
Infants who come into regular contact with other children during their first six months are less likely to develop asthma, say doctors.

A study carried out in Arizona, in the US, has found that infants placed in nurseries or with childminders were less likely to develop the condition than infants who had little contact with other children.

The doctors behind the study suggested that coming into contact with other children, and their associated colds and infections, boosted a baby's immune system.

They said the chances of a child developing asthma before they are six years old is significantly reduced if they attend nursery or have an older sibling in the early stages of their life.

Writing in the latest issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, the researchers based their findings on a study of 1,246 children.

This is one of several studies that suggest early life infections in some way can be protective against developing of asthma

Dr Martyn Partridge, National Asthma Campaign

"Bacterial or viral infections occurring during infancy as a result of exposure to numerous children may provide important signals to the new-born's maturing immune system," they said.

The study follows previous research which has suggested a link between childhood infection and the onset of asthma.

Asthma affects more than three million people in the UK. It has become increasingly common in children in recent decades and scientists are, generally, at a loss to explain the rise.

The Arizona researchers suggested that their findings may go someway towards explaining why incidence of the condition is increasing when family sizes have fallen and standards of personal hygiene have increased.

'Further studies needed'

The National Asthma Campaign in the UK has been carrying out research into the why the condition is on the rise.

Its medical adviser, Dr Martyn Partridge, said work needs to be done on developing a vaccine that can boost children's immune system and protect against asthma.

"This is one of several studies that suggest early life infections in some way can be protective against developing of asthma," he said.

"What we now need are intervention studies where we give at risk children not an illness, but some form of controlled infection or vaccine that can have the same beneficial effect as similar infections."

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See also:

22 Aug 00 | Health
Junk food link to asthma
19 Jul 00 | Health
Asthma rates 'falling steadily'
07 Jul 00 | Health
Asthma doubles in two decades
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