ASTHMA: Study Backs Germ Protection Theory
Children who are exposed to germs at an early age may be less likely to suffer from asthma later in childhood, a new study found. The Washington Post reports that researchers at the University of Arizona's Respiratory Sciences Center found that infants who went to day care centers or who had older siblings were less likely to develop asthma, a chronic disease which affects about 17.3 million Americans. The study supports the theory that an increase in "small families, good sanitation, and widespread antibiotic use -- all of which reduce childhood exposure to bacteria and viruses -- may be part of the reason for the dramatic increase in asthma and allergies seen in the United States and other industrialized countries over the past three decades." Robert Wood of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine said that if further research confirms the link between germs and a stronger immune system, "it's extremely promising that you'd be able to expose a newborn to the right mix of safe bacteria and potentially turn the allergy system way down or completely off." The study found, however, that only infants attending day care centers in their first year developed asthma at a lower rate than other children. Infants who attended day care in their first six months fared the best, as they "had only 40% the risk of asthma seen in those who were not exposed to day care or older siblings." While the number of children who are in day care in the United States has risen sharply in recent years, only 7% of infants under a year old currently attend such programs. Still, these findings may help reassure parents who feel guilty about sending their kids to child care. Sandra Christiansen of the Scripps Research Institute wrote in a commentary accompanying the study, "For those of us who share the furtive guilt of having left marginally ill toddlers at day care, these findings ... offer a sense of relief" (Okie, 8/24).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.