• asthma;
  • epidemiology;
  • IgE;
  • Staphylococcus aureus ;
  • superantigens



Specific IgE to Staphylococcus aureus enterotoxins (SE-IgE) has been associated with asthma. In the general population, we aimed to determine the prevalence of and risk factors for serum SE-IgE and to examine the association with asthma.


A postal questionnaire was sent to a random sample of adults in 19 centers across Europe. A random sample of respondents was invited for clinical examination upon which they answered a questionnaire, underwent skin prick tests (SPTs) for common aeroallergens, and provided blood for measurement of total IgE and SE-IgE. Risks were analyzed within centers using weighted logistic regression, and overall estimates calculated using fixed-effects meta-analysis.


2908 subjects were included in this analysis. Prevalence of positive SE-IgE was 29.3%; no significant geographic variation was observed. In contrast to positive skin prick tests, SE-IgE was more common in smokers (<15 pack-year: OR 1.11, P = 0.079, ≥15 pack-year: OR 1.70, P < 0.001), and prevalence did not decrease in older age-groups or in those with many siblings. Total IgE concentrations were higher in those with positive SE-IgE than in those with positive SPT. SE-IgE was associated with asthma (OR 2.10, 95% confidence interval [1.60–2.76], P = 0.001) in a concentration-dependent manner. This effect was independent of SPT result and homogeneous across all centers.


We report for the first time that SE-IgE is common in the general population throughout Europe and that its risk factors differ from those of IgE against aeroallergens. This is the first study to show that SE-IgE is significantly and independently associated with asthma in the general population.