Newborns' exposure to dirt 'could reduce asthma risk'
Article date: 6 June 2014
Babies who are exposed to dirt and a range of other allergens in the first year of their life could benefit from a lower risk from asthma, among other conditions, according to new research.
The study - conducted by the Johns Hopkins Children's Center and other institutions - found infants who came into regular contact with varieties of household bacteria, pet and rodent dander, and roach allergens were less likely to develop the respiratory illness, wheezing and other allergies.
Their findings have been published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, explaining how exposure to these influences can shape a child's immune responses, effectively protecting them as they grow up.
Scientists are hopeful the information may now be used to help them come up with preventative strategies to inhibit wheezing and allergies, both of which are precursors to asthma.
Study author and chief of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center Dr Robert Wood said one key insight was how critical the timing of initial exposure could be.
"What this tells us is that not only are many of our immune responses shaped in the first year of life, but also that certain bacteria and allergens play an important role in stimulating and training the immune system to behave a certain way," he noted.
The health of 467 newborns was tracked over a three-year period, following earlier research that indicated children who were raised on farms had lower allergy rates.
Experts found that those who had no signs of wheezing or asthma at the age of three had also grown up with the highest levels of household allergens and had lived in a home with a wider range of bacterial species than most.
According to Asthma UK, 5.4 million people in the country have been diagnosed with the respiratory condition, of which there is no cure. An average of 1,140 patients die every year as a result of complications.