Can we be too clean? According to what’s called the hygiene hypothesis, yes. Without being challenged as kids, our immune systems don’t flourish. Scientists think it could be part of the rise of allergies and asthma.
Now a new study supports the hygiene hypothesis: infants in Uganda had a lower chance of developing the skin allergy condition eczema if their moms had helminth worm infections while pregnant. The research is in the journal Pediatric Allergy and Immunology. [Harriet Mpairwe et al., "Anthelminthic treatment during pregnancy is associated with increased risk of infantile eczema: randomised-controlled trial results"]
A 2005 study showed that the kids of women treated for worm infections had more eczema. Twenty-five hundred pregnant women took part in this follow-up research. Some got one worm-killing drug. Others took a different drug. And a third group received a placebo. One drug nearly doubled the kids’ risk of eczema. The other more than doubled the odds.
Helminth worm infections can give the mothers symptoms such as mild anemia or stomach pain and vomiting. Although many people have no symptoms at all. The scientists say more research is needed before they would recommend not treating worm infections. But the work lends additional support to the idea that hygiene may be a balancing act rather than a goal.
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