Background Growing up on a farm and an anthroposophic lifestyle are associated with a lower prevalence of allergic diseases in childhood. This might be related to increased inhalatory exposure to microbial agents.
Objective To assess the association between microbial agents in house dust and atopic wheeze in farm children, Steiner school children and reference children.
Methods Levels of bacterial endotoxin, fungal β(1,3)-glucans and fungal extracellular polysaccharides (EPS) in mattress and living room floor dust were measured in a population of 270 atopic (=Phadiatop-positive) children with self-reported wheezing, including 168 current atopic wheezers, and 441 non-atopic, non-symptomatic controls. These children were selected from a cross-sectional study in five European countries.
Results In the study population as a whole, average levels of mattress dust endotoxin, EPS and glucans were slightly (1.1–1.2-fold; P<0.10) higher in control children than in atopic wheezers. Atopic wheeze was related to mattress levels of endotoxin, EPS and glucans in farm and farm-reference children. However, when adjusting for group (farm vs. farm-reference children), the associations became non-significant whereas the group effect remained. No associations between atopic wheeze and microbial agents were observed in Steiner and Steiner-reference children. For current atopic wheeze, the farm effect became non-significant after adjustment for microbial agent levels.
Conclusion Not only bacterial endotoxin but also mould components might offer some protection against atopic wheeze in children. However, the protective effect of being raised on a farm was largely unexplained by the mattress microbial agent levels measured in this study.
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