Background: Epidemiological studies have shown inverse associations between geohelminth (intestinal helminth) infection and atopy, leading to the suggestion that geohelminths might protect against allergy. Periodic deworming of school children with anthelmintics is a widely implemented intervention and has raised concerns that such programmes could increase allergy. We investigated the effect of repeated anthelmintic treatments with albendazole over 12 months on the prevalence of atopy and clinical indices of allergy.
Methods: We did a cluster-randomised controlled trial in schoolchildren from 68 rural schools. Children were randomly assigned by school to either albendazole (34 schools, 1164 children) every 2 months for 12 months, or to no intervention (34 schools, 1209 children). The intervention schools received a total of seven albendazole treatments. The primary outcome was atopy at 12 months (allergen skin-test reactivity), and analysis was by intention-to-treat for whole-school analyses and per protocol for children. This study is registered as an International Standard Randomised Controlled Trial, number ISRCTN61195515.
Findings: Data for analysis were available for all schools and from 67.4% (784 of 1164) and 70.1% (848 of 1209) of children in albendazole and no-treatment groups, respectively. Albendazole treatment caused large reductions in geohelminth prevalence over the study period (adjusted odds ratio 0.13, 95% CI 0.09-0.19, p<0.001), but there was no evidence that treatment was associated with an increase in atopy prevalence (0.97, 0.68-1.39, p=0.862), or clinical allergy (wheeze, 1.07, 0.54-2.11, p=0.848) in the albendazole compared with the no-treatment group.
Interpretation: We saw no increase in the prevalence of atopy or clinical allergy associated with albendazole treatment. Deworming programmes for schoolchildren are unlikely to be accompanied by an increase in allergy.