Bacteria in newborn airways may raise asthma risk

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NEW YORK, Oct 11 (Reuters) Newborns who harbor certain types of bacteria in their throats, including Streptococcus pneumoniae, a common cause of pneumonia, and Haemophilus influenzae, which causes upper respiratory infections, are at increased risk for developing recurrent wheeze or asthma early in life, new research shows.

This finding ''opens new perspectives for the understanding and prediction of recurrent wheeze and asthma in young children,'' lead author Dr. Hans Bisgaard, from Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark, and colleagues conclude in their report in The New England Journal of Medicine for today.

The researchers assessed the development of recurrent wheeze and asthma in 321 newborns who had throat cultures taken at 1 month of age and who were then followed through 5 years of age.

Twenty-one percent of infants were colonized with S pneumoniae, H influenzae, another type of bacteria called M catarrhalis, or a combination of these bugs and this finding more than doubled the risk of persistent wheeze, wheeze flare-up, and hospitalization for wheeze.

The prevalence of asthma at age 5 was significantly increased in the children who harbored these organisms as newborns compared with children who did not (33 per cent versus 10 per cent), the investigators report.

In a related editorial, Dr Erika von Mutius, from University Children's Hospital in Munich, Germany, comments that these findings may be interpreted to suggest that the presence and growth of bacteria in the throat in the first 4 weeks of life ''indicates a defective innate immune response very early in life, which promotes the development of asthma.'' Thus, she adds, the researchers ''may have found an interesting and new sentinel rather than a causative signal.'' REUTERS ARB BD0903

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