Reduced Asthma Risk Linked to Infant Exposure to Pet, Pest Allergens


The URECA showed that early exposure to cat, mouse, and cockroach allergens can reduce the risk of asthma by age 7.

Anthony S Fauci, NIAID, Asthma, Pulmonology

Infants that are exposed to higher levels of indoor pest and pet allergens have a lower risk of developing asthma by the time they reach age 7, according to research from the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID).

Previous studies have examined the impact of reducing allergens can have on controlling established asthma, but these new data suggest that a prophylactic effect can be incurred from exposure to certain allergens. The Urban Environment and Childhood Asthma (URECA) study is currently ongoing.

“We are learning more and more about how the early-life environment can influence the development of certain health conditions,” Anthony S. Fauci (pictured), MD, director of NIAID said in a statement. “If we can develop strategies to prevent asthma before it develops, we will help alleviate the burden this disease places on millions of people, as well as on their families and communities.”

URECA enrolled 560 newborns since 2005 from the Baltimore, Boston, New York City, and St. Louis areas that were considered high risk for asthma. Among the 442 children with data examined, 29% (n=130) had asthma by age 7.

Children with higher concentration of mouse, cockroach, and cat allergens present in the home within the first 3 years (data collected at 3 months, 2 years, and 3 years) were shown to be associated with a lower risk of asthma. Dog allergens saw a similar association, but its’ insignificant statistical nature implied the possibility of its association being by chance.

“Our observations imply that exposure to a broad variety of indoor allergens, bacteria and bacterial products early in life may reduce the risk of developing asthma,” James E. Gern, MD, the principal investigator of URECA and a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said in a statement. “Additional research may help us identify specific targets for asthma prevention strategies.”

Previous data from URECA determined that the presence of certain bacteria can protect 3-year-olds from developing recurrent wheezing, when exposed in infancy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 8% of children in the US have asthma.

The URECA study is ongoing. The study investigators plan to divide the participants into groups based on the characteristics of their allegories and asthma in hopes to find out more about the influence of early-life factors on the development of asthma.

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