Background: Growing up on a farm and an anthroposophic lifestyle are associated with a lower prevalence of allergic diseases in childhood. It has been suggested that the enhanced exposure to endotoxin is an important protective factor of farm environments. Little is known about exposure to other microbial components on farms and exposure in anthroposophic families.
Objective: To assess the levels and determinants of bacterial endotoxin, mould beta(1,3)-glucans and fungal extracellular polysaccharides (EPS) in house dust of farm children, Steiner school children and reference children.
Methods: Mattress and living room dust was collected in the homes of 229 farm children, 122 Steiner children and 60 and 67 of their respective reference children in five European countries. Stable dust was collected as well. All samples were analysed in one central laboratory. Determinants were assessed by questionnaire.
Results: Levels of endotoxin, EPS and glucans per gram of house dust in farm homes were 1.2- to 3.2-fold higher than levels in reference homes. For Steiner children, 1.1- to 1.6-fold higher levels were observed compared with their reference children. These differences were consistently found across countries, although mean levels varied considerably. Differences between groups and between countries were also significant after adjustment for home and family characteristics.
Conclusion: Farm children are not only consistently exposed to higher levels of endotoxin, but also to higher levels of mould components. Steiner school children may also be exposed to higher levels of microbial agents, but differences with reference children are much less pronounced than for farm children. Further analyses are, however, required to assess the association between exposure to these various microbial agents and allergic and airway diseases in the PARSIFAL population.