• allergic/atopic disease;
  • asthma;
  • infections;
  • gastroenteritis;
  • immunisation;
  • hygiene hypothesis

Thomson JA, Widjaja C, Darmaputra AAP, Lowe A, Matheson MC, Bennett CM, Allen K, Abramson MJ, Hosking C, Hill D, Dharmage SC. Early childhood infections and immunisation and the development of allergic disease in particular asthma in a high-risk cohort: a prospective study of allergy-prone children from birth to six years. Pediatr Allergy Immunol 2010: 21: 1076–1085. © 2010 John Wiley & Sons A/S

The role of early childhood infections and immunisation in the development of allergic diseases remains controversial. To examine these associations, six hundred and twenty infants with first-degree relatives with allergic diseases were recruited into the Melbourne Atopy Cohort Study. Information on risk factors and outcomes was collected by interviewer administered questionnaire and was based on parental report and/or a physician’s diagnosis. Risk factors examined included early childhood infections (including gastroenteritis, otitis media and lower respiratory tract infections) and immunisations in the first 2 yr of life. Outcomes were current asthma, allergic rhinitis and eczema at 6 yr of age. Univariate and multivariate regression analysis were used to estimate relative risk (RR) and assess confounding. By 6 yr, 79% of the original cohort remained in the study. Those with at least three episodes of gastroenteritis showed an increased risk (crude RR 2.36, 95%CI 1.41 3.95; adjusted RR 2.03 95%CI 1.50 2.75) for the later development of asthma at age 6. Of the scheduled immunisations, Sabin immunisation in the second year had a reduced risk of asthma at 6 yr (crude RR 0.60, 95%CI 0.37 0.98; adjusted RR 0.63 95%CI 0.39 1.02). Combined diphtheria and tetanus (CDT) immunisation in the first year had an increased risk of asthma at 6 yr (RR 1.76, 95%CI 1.11 2.78; adjusted RR 1.88 95%CI 1.28 2.77). Recurrent gastroenteritis in early childhood is associated with a later risk of asthma. This may reflect a cause and effect relationship, or exposure to common risk factors. In contrast, Sabin immunisation in the second year is associated with a decreased risk of asthma in later childhood. CDT immunisation in the first year may be a risk factor for asthma, but the need for CDT immunisation may also be a marker of increased risk of asthma in later childhood.