Disease link to antibiotics in pregnancy
By Severin Carrell
12 May 2002
Children are much more at risk of getting asthma if their mothers take
antibiotics during pregnancy, a major new study suggests.
The finding will increase suspicions that modern lifestyles and medicines
are closely linked to the significant increase in the disease among children.
The number of children with asthma has grown six-fold in the last 25 years
and it now affects 1.6m children in Britain - mirroring a surge in the use
of antibiotics, household disinfectants and microbiological cleaners.
Many experts believe that increased use of medicines in early life, and
increased cleanliness in homes, suppresses a child's immune system, making
them more susceptible to allergies.
The new study, which will be unveiled at the American Thoracic Society's
annual conference in Atlanta next week, is based on the GP records of
nearly 25,000 children living in the West Midlands during the late 1990s.
Researchers at Nottingham University discovered that if mothers used
antibiotics during pregnancy, the chances of their child becoming asthmatic
grew by 43 per cent. The chances of a child later being diagnosed with hay
fever grew by 38 per cent, and by 11 per cent for eczema.
The researchers are cautious about claiming they have proven a link between
antibiotics and asthma, but these findings will intensify pressure on
ministers from the National Asthma Society, which funded the West Midlands
study, to greatly increase spending on asthma research.
Last week, the NAS revealed that every week, 7,000 children visit their GPs
to be treated for asthma for the first time, and a child goes to hospital
for an asthma attack every 16 minutes.
Dr Richard Hubbard, a chest doctor at the university's respiratory medicine
unit, said the findings needed to be repeated by further research before a
clear link was established. However, he said, the results increased the
evidence linking exposure to infection to a child's chances to becoming
Antibiotics, he said, kill off the natural bacteria in the gut which help
develop the immune system. "If you're exposed to more infection, that might
make your immune system develop in a better way," he said.