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A Little Dust Could Be Good for Tender Skin

Bacterial toxin in house dust may protect infants from eczmea

WEDNESDAY, July 7, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- High levels of endotoxin, a bacterial toxin found in house dust, may protect infants from eczema, says a study done as part of the ongoing Boston-based Home Allergens and Asthma study.

Researchers collected dust samples from the living rooms of homes that had 400 infants. The dust samples were analyzed for endotoxin, a component of cell walls of various bacteria.

Infants in homes with higher levels of endotoxin were less likely to be diagnosed with eczema in their first year of life. Infants in homes with dogs were also less likely to have eczema, but this relationship weakened after the researchers adjusted for endotoxin exposure.

The risk of eczema was higher in infants whose fathers had a history of eczema and whose mothers were sensitive to at least one allergen.

This study appears to support the controversial theory that early exposure to infectious inflammatory agents changes infants' immune systems and makes them less likely to develop allergies later in life.

But parents shouldn't buy pets or stop cleaning their homes to protect their infants from eczema, said study leader Dr. Wanda Phipatanakul, a pediatric allergist and immunologist at Children's Hospital Boston and assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.

"We now know that there are things in the environment that may be important in eczema. But you need lots of studies to be able to come up with recommendations," she said.

It's not clear what endotoxin does to the immune syste, and previous research has linked endotoxin exposure with wheezing and airway inflammation in people with asthma, she said.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about eczema.

SOURCE: Children's Hospital Boston, news release, July 6, 2004
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