Children’s asthma risks seem lessened by their exposure to a wider-than-usual variety of environmental microorganisms, especially as found in farming environments, according to a New England Journal of Medicine study.
Researchers examined the diversity of microbial exposure among some 17,000 Central European children with two approaches. In one, mattress dust was collected and analyzed for bacterial DNA signatures; in the other, airborne dust was collected from children’s bedrooms and cultured for microbes.
Children living on family farms were found to have been exposed to a wider range of microorganisms than their non-farm contemporaries. That broadened exposure was associated with a significantly lower risk for asthma. Atopy, although also significantly less prevalent among farm dwellers, was only weakly affected by microbial diversity.
An editorialist, writing that the results provide “only a low-resolution picture,” expresses hope that the findings will lead to new preventive strategies.