Exposure to microbial agents might inhibit the development of atopy and asthma.
We measured the association between microbial exposure assessed at 3 months and the development of atopic sensitization and doctor-diagnosed (DD) asthma and wheeze in the first 4 years in a birth cohort study of children with atopic mothers.
Endotoxin, fungal (1-->3)-beta-D-glucans, extracellular polysaccharides from the genera Penicillium and Aspergillus (EPS-Pen/Asp), and dust on living room floors were measured at 3 months of age. Serum IgE levels against common allergens were determined at 1 and 4 years, and questionnaire information about respiratory morbidity was collected yearly.
Microbial levels in mattresses were low and not associated with serum IgE levels, DD asthma, and wheeze. Floor levels of biocontaminants and dust, on the other hand, were inversely associated with DD asthma, being most pronounced for endotoxin (odds ratio [OR], 0.40; 95% CI, 0.21-0.77) and EPS-Pen/Asp (OR, 0.42; 95% CI, 0.18-0.99). Mutual adjustment for other exposures did not significantly alter the results for endotoxin and only moderately affected the results for EPS-Pen/Asp. Persistent wheeze was also consistently less common in the high-exposure group, being significant only for EPS-Pen/Asp (OR, 0.37; 95% CI, 0.15-0.96). Transient wheeze and wheeze in the past 12 months were also reduced, but effects were smaller and not significant. Relationships with serum-specific IgE levels, which could only be assessed in 41% at age 4 years, were less pronounced and statistically significant only for EPS-Pen/Asp.
Early exposure to common microbial contaminants, including fungal agents, might protect against asthma.
Microbial exposure in early life might protect against asthma and might constitute a novel target for prevention.