Background: Geohelminth infection and poor hygiene may be protective against allergic sensitization.
Objective: To determine whether current helminth infection is associated with a reduced prevalence of allergen skin test sensitization in a Southeast Asian population of children with a high prevalence of hookworm infection.
Methods: A total of 1742 Vietnamese schoolchildren were invited to take part in a cross-sectional survey. Allergen skin sensitization to house dust mites (Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus and Dermatophagoides farinae) and American cockroach (Periplaneta americana) were measured and stool samples for qualitative and quantitative geohelminth estimation collected.
Results: A total of 1601 children age 6 to 18 participated. Sensitization to dust mites was present in 14.4% and to cockroach in 27.6% of children. In a mutually adjusted model, the risk of sensitization to dust mites was reduced in those with higher hookworm burden (adjusted odds ratio [OR] for 350+ vs no eggs per gram, 0.61; 95% CI, 0.39-0.96) and with Ascaris infection (adjusted OR, 0.28; 0.10-0.78), and increased in those using flush toilets (adjusted OR for flush toilet vs none/bush/pit, 2.51; 1.00-6.28). In contrast, sensitization to cockroach was not independently related to geohelminth infection but was increased in those regularly drinking piped or well water rather than from a stream (adjusted OR, 1.33; 1.02-1.75).
Conclusion: Geohelminth infection, sanitation, and water supply influence the risk of allergic sensitization in Vietnamese children. This is consistent with a protective effect against allergy by geohelminth or other gastrointestinal infection.
Clinical implications: If the inverse relationship between geohelminth infection, poor sanitation, and allergic sensitization proves to be causal, drugs derived from parasite products may help to alleviate clinical allergic disease.