Background: Childhood infections might protect against the expression of atopy. Geohelminths are among the most prevalent infections of childhood and might contribute to the low prevalence of allergic disease reported from rural areas of the tropics.
Objective: We sought to establish whether geohelminth infections protect against atopy and to explore whether this protection is dependent on infection chronicity.
Methods: The risk of atopy (measured by means of allergen skin test reactivity) associated with active geohelminth infections (measured by means of the presence of eggs in stool samples) or with chronic geohelminth infections (measured by means of high levels [>/=3564 IU/mL] of total serum IgE or the presence of detectable anti-Ascaris lumbricoides IgG4 antibodies) was investigated in an analytic cross-sectional study conducted among school-age children attending rural schools in Pichincha Province in Ecuador.
Results: A total of 2865 children aged 5 to 19 years from 55 schools was examined. Active infection with any geohelminth and infections with A lumbricoides or Ancylostoma duodenale were associated with significant protective effects against allergen skin test reactivity. Children with the highest levels of total IgE or with anti-A lumbricoides IgG4 antibodies were protected against skin test reactivity also, and the protective effects of high IgE or anti-A lumbricoides IgG4 and or active geohelminth infections were statistically independent.
Conclusion: Active infections with geohelminth parasites and the presence of serologic markers of chronic infections (high levels of total serum IgE or anti-A lumbricoides IgG4) are independent protective factors against allergen skin test reactivity among school-age children living in an endemic region of the rural tropics.