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J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2001 Nov;108(5):847-54.

Exposure to endotoxin decreases the risk of atopic eczema in infancy: a cohort study.

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GSF National Research Center for Environment and Health, Institute of Epidemiology, Neuherberg, Germany.



Previous studies have shown a protective effect of early exposure to cats and dogs on the development of atopic eczema, asthma, allergic rhinitis, and atopic sensitization in later life. In particular, a higher microbial exposure to endotoxin in early childhood might contribute to this effect.


We examined the associations between bacterial endotoxin in house dust and atopic eczema, infections, and wheezing during the first year of life in an ongoing birth cohort study (LISA).


Data of 1884 term and normal-weight neonates with complete information on exposure to biocontaminants and confounding variables were analyzed. House dust from the mothers' and the children's mattresses was sampled 3 months after birth. Endotoxin content was quantified by using a chromogenic kinetic limulus amoebocyte lysate test.


During the first 6 months of life, the risk of atopic eczema was significantly decreased by endotoxin exposure in dust from mothers' mattresses in the fifth quintile (odds ratio [OR], 0.50; 95% CI, 0.28-0.88), whereas the risk was increased for respiratory infections (OR, 1.69; 95% CI, 1.25-2.28) and cough with respiratory infection, bronchitis, or both (OR, 1.73; 95% CI, 1.28-2.33). The risk of wheezing was also significantly increased during the first 6 months of life (OR, 2.37; 95% CI, 1.40-4.03). For the entire first year of life, these associations attenuated, except for the risk of wheezing, which remained significant (OR, 1.60; 95% CI, 1.10-2.30).


Our findings support the hygiene hypothesis that exposure to high concentrations of endotoxin very early in life might protect against the development of atopic eczema within the first 6 months of life, along with an increased prevalence of nonspecific respiratory diseases.

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