Background: The low prevalence of allergic disease in the rural tropics has been attributed to the protective effects of chronic helminth infections. There is concern that treatment-based control programmes for these parasites may lead to an increase in the prevalence of allergic diseases.
Objective: We measured the impact of 15-17 years of anthelmintic treatment with ivermectin on the prevalence of allergen skin test reactivity and allergic symptoms in school-age children.
Methods: The prevalence of allergen skin test reactivity, exercise-induced bronchospasm and allergic symptoms was compared between school-age children living in communities that had received community-based treatments with ivermectin (for onchocerciasis control) for a period of 15-17 years with those living in geographically adjacent communities that had received no ivermectin.
Results: The prevalence of allergen skin test reactivity was double in children living in treated communities compared with those in untreated communities (16.7% vs. 8.7%, adjusted OR 2.10, 95% CI 1.50-2.94, P<0.0001), and the effect was mediated partly by a reduced prevalence of Trichuris trichiura among treated children. Ivermectin treatments were associated with an increased prevalence of recent eczema symptoms (adjusted OR 2.24, 95% CI 1.05-4.78, P=0.04) but not symptoms of asthma or rhino-conjunctivitis. The effect on eczema symptoms was not associated with reductions in geohelminth infections.
Conclusion: Long-term periodic treatments with ivermectin were associated with an increased prevalence of allergen skin test reactivity. There was some evidence that treatment was associated with an increased prevalence of recent eczema symptoms but not those of asthma or rhino-conjunctivitis.
© 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.