Who Knew? Dirt and Roaches Are Good For Newborns

I suppose Phillip is lucky I was not a good housekeeper when he was born.  Not that I let the formula sit out all night or put it in a dirty bottle.  But I just didn't worry about spotless floors (hey, the five-second law), or sparkling windows or even, clothes neatly folded and put away.  Now a new study says I may have been right, all along.

Newborns need to be exposed to a lot of dirt to build up their immune systems, it seems.

Infants exposed to rodent and pet dander, roach allergens and a wide variety of household bacteria in the first year of life appear less likely to suffer from allergies, wheezing and asthma, according to newswise.com.

Hmm.... Phillip did develop asthma.

Previous research has shown that children who grow up on farms have lower allergy and asthma rates, a phenomenon attributed to their regular exposure to microorganisms present in farm soil, the Web site reports. "Other studies, however, have found increased asthma risk among inner-city dwellers exposed to high levels of roach and mouse allergens and pollutants. The new study confirms that children who live in such homes do have higher overall allergy and asthma rates but adds a surprising twist."

Shockingly, those who encounter such substances before their first birthdays seem to benefit rather than suffer from them. However, if exposed to them after age 1, all bets are off.

“Our study shows that the timing of initial exposure may be critical,” newswise quotes study author Robert Wood, M.D., chief of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center. “What this tells us is that not only are many of our immune responses shaped in the first year of life, but also that certain bacteria and allergens play an important role in stimulating and training the immune system to behave a certain way.”

Children free of wheezing and allergies at age 3 had grown up with the highest levels of household allergens and were the most likely to live in houses with the "richest array of bacterial species," newswise notes. Over 40 percent of allergy-free and wheeze-free children had grown up in such allergen and bacteria-rich homes. By contrast, only 8 percent of children who suffered from both allergy and wheezing had been exposed to these substances in their first year of life. 

Asthma is a terrifying disease in an infant.  They can't tell you they can't breathe.  They don't cry or whimper.  They just turn blue, and stop breathing.  I've written about this before but I remember bathing Phillip in the bathtub and seeing his ribs swell in out and like sails on a windy day.  Only a little bit later did it occur to me, he's struggling to breathe.

So should we all go out and get some rats and roaches?  Of course not.  But we probably do need to be not quite so cautious (read: crazy) about a little dirt in our homes.  Yay.


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