Background: Growing up on a farm and an anthroposophic lifestyle are associated with a lower prevalence of allergic diseases in childhood. This might be related to increased inhalatory exposure to microbial agents.
Objective: To assess the association between microbial agents in house dust and atopic wheeze in farm children, Steiner school children and reference children.
Methods: Levels of bacterial endotoxin, fungal beta(1,3)-glucans and fungal extracellular polysaccharides (EPS) in mattress and living room floor dust were measured in a population of 270 atopic (=Phadiatop-positive) children with self-reported wheezing, including 168 current atopic wheezers, and 441 non-atopic, non-symptomatic controls. These children were selected from a cross-sectional study in five European countries.
Results: In the study population as a whole, average levels of mattress dust endotoxin, EPS and glucans were slightly (1.1-1.2-fold; P<0.10) higher in control children than in atopic wheezers. Atopic wheeze was related to mattress levels of endotoxin, EPS and glucans in farm and farm-reference children. However, when adjusting for group (farm vs. farm-reference children), the associations became non-significant whereas the group effect remained. No associations between atopic wheeze and microbial agents were observed in Steiner and Steiner-reference children. For current atopic wheeze, the farm effect became non-significant after adjustment for microbial agent levels.
Conclusion: Not only bacterial endotoxin but also mould components might offer some protection against atopic wheeze in children. However, the protective effect of being raised on a farm was largely unexplained by the mattress microbial agent levels measured in this study.