Background: Moisture is vitally important for house dust mites and they cannot survive in cold or hot-dry climates.
Aims of the study: To investigate the influence of two extraordinarily cold and dry winters in 1995/1996 and 1996/1997 on house dust mite levels in German homes.
Methods: Dust samples were collected between June 1995 and December 2001 on the mattresses of 655 adults and 454 schoolchildren living in five different areas of Germany. We compared house dust mite allergen Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus (Der p 1) levels before and during the winters of 1995/1996 and 1996/1997 with levels after these winters.
Results: D. pteronyssinus (Der p 1) levels in samples taken after the cold winters of 1995/1996 and 1996/1997 were approximately two times lower than Der p 1 levels in dust samples collected before or during these respective winters (Geometric means: Erfurt 89 vs 33 ng/g; Hamburg 333 vs 219 ng/g; Bitterfeld, Hettstedt, and Zerbst 296 vs 180 ng/g). Except for Hamburg, the decrease in Der p 1 levels was statistically significant. D. pteronyssinus levels measured in dust samples collected in 2001 (i.e. 3 years after the two cold winters) show a statistically non-significant increase (Geometric means: Erfurt 33 vs 39 ng/g; Hamburg 219 vs 317 ng/g), suggesting that it may take a long time for mite allergen levels to increase again after a sudden decrease.
Conclusion: We conclude that Der p 1 levels in German mattress dust samples have been approximately reduced by a factor of three to four by the two consecutive cold winters of 1995/1996 and 1996/1997.