(Madrid, 11 October 1999) Regular contact during childhood with farm animals could provide lasting protection against allergic illnesses, according to the authors of a broad-ranging study conducted in Austria on 2283 children aged between 8 and 10. The study, which was presented on Monday at the meeting of the European Respiratory Society (ERS) in Madrid, was a joint effort, by the Paediatric Pulmonology Department of the children's hospital and the Public Health Department of the city of Salzburg, under the responsibility of Dr Josef Riedler.
The parents of the children were asked in a detailed questionnaire to provide information about the children's daily lives and about any allergies they were suffering from. At the same time, 1137 of the children were subjected to what the doctors call "skin prick tests", which were intended to show up any immediate hyper-sensitivity to 7 different substances that could cause local allergies.
When the data were sifted through, it turned out that the children living on farms were 3 times less sensitive to hay fever than those living in a non-rural environment (3.1% compared with 10.3%). In the case of asthma, the ratio was even more pronounced: 1.1% compared with 3.9%. Reactions to skin prick tests were about twice less frequent (18.8% against 32.7%) for farm children as for the others.
This clearly marked difference persisted when other factors were taken into account, such as genetic background, parents' education, eating habits and living conditions.
In order to make quite sure and to refine his results, Josef Riedler tested how the figures would look in the case of regular contact with cattle or poultry, regardless of the kind of environment the child lived in. The gap between town and country in fact closed substantially, highlighting rather the decisive influence of regular contact with farm animals.
The reason why some children develop protection has not been established,
although-as the Austrian d
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