Are infections protecting from atopy?

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The ‘Hygiene Hypothesis’ proposes that overcrowding and unhygienic contacts early in life may protect from atopic diseases by facilitating exposure to microbes. Longitudinal studies have recently shown that among subjects exposed early in life to other children at home, or at day care, the risk of wheezing steadily declined with age to levels significantly lower than controls. Evidences supporting a protective role of respiratory infections or BCG immunization on the development of allergic asthma are still insufficient. By contrast, the observation of a lower prevalence of atopic sensitization among children raised on a farm has been consistently reproduced. Several new studies have recently investigated the role of changes of human microbial flora, declining exposure to foodborne and orofecal infections, to helminths and to environmental sources of endotoxin as putative contributors to the rise of allergy and asthma cases among populations living with a western lifestyle.

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