Infectious disease histories were evaluated in a population-based case-control study of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) as it has been hypothesised that delays in early infections are associated with an increased risk of disease. Allergy histories were also assessed as part of a broader evaluation of the role of immune factors in ALL. Cases (n = 255) were diagnosed between 1980 and 1991 at one of four referral centres in a 31-county area of New York State; controls (n = 760) were a random sample of live births from the same region, frequency matched to cases by sex, race and birth year. Data were collected by mailed questionnaire, completed by case and control parents in 1995. Allergy and infectious histories before the age at leukaemia diagnosis for cases and an equivalent age for controls were evaluated. The adjusted odds ratio and 95% confidence interval [CI] associated with a positive history of any allergy was 0.58 [95% CI 0.38, 0.88] compared with a negative allergy history. The occurrence of several common childhood illnesses before 25 months of age and ALL were assessed, with both weak positive and weak inverse associations observed.

Overall, these analyses provide little support for the hypothesis that infection delay in early life is associated with an increased risk of ALL. Children with positive allergy histories reported significantly more infections than those with negative histories; however, effect modification of the infection-ALL associations by child allergy history was not observed. Nonetheless, these observations suggest the importance of assessing both allergy and infectious histories and their possible interactions when evaluating the association between these immune factors and childhood ALL.