Country life protects children from asthma

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Country life protects children from asthma: bacteria and fungi protect farm children.

Children who grow up in the country are better protected from asthma. An international team of researchers led by Markus Ege from Dr. von Haunerschen Children's Hospital of the Ludwig Maximilians University (LMU) in Munich has found that the rural children are exposed to a larger number of microorganisms and are therefore probably less likely to develop bronchial asthma than city children.

In rural areas, children come into contact with microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi far more frequently than in the city. This is probably the reason why country children suffer less from autoimmune diseases and asthma, the researchers led by Markus Ege report in the current issue of the specialist journal "The New England Journal of Medicine". Various studies have shown in the past that children who grow up in the countryside and are at less risk of allergies.

Two studies on asthma diseases in children evaluated Together with scientists from the Technical University of Munich, the University of Ulm and research institutions in France, Great Britain, Switzerland and the Netherlands, Ege and his team evaluated two large-scale studies that also deal with the connection between country life and asthma diseases. As part of their investigation, the scientists analyzed the data from the PARSIFAL study with 6,963 participating children from southern Germany between the ages of 6 and 13 years and took a blood sample and a dust sample from their mattress from a partial sample of 489 children. In addition, the data of the GABRIELA study with 9,668 participating children from southern Germany, Austria and Switzerland between the ages of 6 and 12 years were evaluated. A dust sample of their mattress was also taken from 444 children and the lung function was also measured.

Country children come into contact with more microorganisms When examining the genetic material of the bacteria and fungi found in house dust, the researchers led by Markus Ege found that the concentration of microorganisms in house dust was significantly higher than that of the farm children than in the city. At the same time, the children living in the countryside had significantly fewer asthma diseases, which suggests that the microorganisms have a protective effect against asthma diseases, the researchers report. Markus Ege and colleagues emphasized that several types of bacteria have been identified that may help reduce the risk of asthma. The experts have not yet been able to clarify how this works. For example, “it could be that a certain combination of microorganisms stimulates the innate immune system and thus counteracts the development of asthma.” It would also be conceivable that “there are germs that cause asthma, but also benign germs that cause them then overgrow dangerous germs, ”the researchers explained. In addition, according to the experts, the diverse microorganisms in the lungs, similar to those in the intestinal tract, could help ensure that the germs are in a balanced ratio and do not dominate the asthma-causing bacteria and fungi. Despite their assumptions, the scientists have not yet known exactly “with which trick bacterial cells and fungal spores reduce the risk of asthma,” explained Markus Ege.

Vaccine against asthma possible? In order to investigate more precisely which microorganisms were responsible for reducing the risk of asthma, the researchers next want to analyze the effects of the bacteria and fungi on asthma individually. "In the long term, this could help to develop vaccines against asthma," said Markus Ege. "Of particular interest here are certain types of bacteria from the genera Bacillus and Staphylococcus as well as fungi from the genus Eurotium," explained the expert. Overall, her study confirms the suspicion that children who come into contact with many microorganisms are at a lower risk of allergies and autoimmune diseases than adolescents who come into contact with only a few bacteria and fungi.

Hygiene hypothesis confirmed: pollution of the air outside? With their investigation, the so-called hygiene hypothesis, according to which the risk of allergies and other autoimmune diseases increases with decreasing contact with microorganisms, was confirmed, the researchers explained. The experts indirectly make the exaggerated hygiene, especially in children, responsible for the fact that asthma is one of the most common chronic diseases in children in Germany. According to the health authorities in Germany, up to ten percent of adolescents are affected by asthma. However, the article by Markus Ege and colleagues makes no statements as to whether the general air pollution in the children's environment has been taken into account. It is reasonable to assume here that the generally better air conditions in relation to the lower risk of asthma can also play a role in the country. It remains to be seen how the follow-up examinations at the LMU will go and whether a connection between individual microorganisms and the risk of asthma is confirmed. (fp)

Read about asthma:
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New hope for asthma therapy?
Alcohol can increase asthma and hay fever
Heartburn can cause asthma
Treatment options for bronchial asthma

Image: Hanspeter Bolliger /

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