Environmental exposure to endotoxin and other microbial products and the decreased risk of childhood atopy: evaluating developments since April 2002

Curr Opin Allergy Clin Immunol. 2003 Oct;3(5):325-9. doi: 10.1097/00130832-200310000-00001.


Purpose of review: The hygiene hypothesis proposes an association between the change in exposure to microbes and the increased incidence of atopic diseases in recent decades. Exposure to microbes and childhood infections and their association with atopy has thus attracted much scientific interest. This review focuses on new developments in the field of epidemiology.

Recent findings: Studies in adults confirm that exposure to orofaecal pathogens are associated with less asthma and allergies. In seropositive individuals, no increase in allergy prevalence over time was noted. Similarly, the generational increase in atopy and allergic rhinitis was not observed in individuals who were exposed to a farming environment in childhood. More than 20 studies have been published examining the effect of exposure to a farm environment in children and adults. Most consistently, the 'protective' farm effect was related to livestock farming and thus to microbial exposure. A dose-dependent inverse relationship between exposure to endotoxin in the mattress dust of children and the occurrence of atopic diseases was shown in rural environments in Europe. In addition, the blood cells of farmers' children were shown to express higher amounts of innate immunity receptors. Only a few farm studies have so far included an objective measure of the microbial environment. The examined exposure to endotoxin might partly be a surrogate measure of a much broader spectrum of immunomodulatory microbial compounds present in a rural environment.

Summary: The 'hygiene hypothesis' has gained much credibility, but the results should be balanced against the benefits of established hygiene standards.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Animals, Domestic / immunology
  • Animals, Domestic / microbiology*
  • Child
  • Endotoxins / immunology*
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Humans
  • Hygiene*
  • Hypersensitivity / immunology
  • Hypersensitivity / microbiology*
  • Rural Population


  • Endotoxins