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Massey Magazine Issue 13 November 2002

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Paracetamol or antibiotic use early in life may increase the subsequent risk of asthma

Children who were given paracetamol early in life have a higher risk of having asthma symptoms now (about 25%) compared with children who were not given paracetamol early in life (about 15%).

Children who had used antibiotics early in life also had a higher risk of having current asthma symptoms (about 28%) compared with children who had not used antibiotics early in life (about 16%).

These are two of the key findings from a survey conducted by the Centre for Public Health Research at Massey University, and the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) which has just been published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

The survey was designed to learn more about childhood infections and asthma risk. The study surveyed parents of 1,584 children who had been notified to public health services with serious infections at age 0-4 years. It compared their health with 2,539 children sampled from the general population.

For the children in the survey about 24% currently had some asthma symptoms; about the same as in the general population, so having an infection early in life didn’t seem to have affected their risk of getting asthma.

Having a cat early in life did not increase the risk of getting asthma or hay fever; in fact, it actually reduced it a little.

Professor Neil Pearce from Massey University says these findings should be regarded as preliminary, and there are no immediate policy implications.

“It’s not clear yet as to what is causing what. Are parents giving their children antibiotics or paracetamol for infections, and is it the infections themselves that increase the risk of asthma? Are parents of asthmatic children more likely to remember what medicines they took early in life?”

“However, if these findings are confirmed in further research then they would indicate the need for greater caution in the use of both antibiotics and paracetamol early in life,” he says.

“We would like to stress that these findings don’t mean that parents should stop giving their children antibiotics or paracetamol when it is appropriate to do so. Furthermore, the increase in asthma risk, if it is real, is quite small and there is no need to be concerned if your child took antibiotics or paracetamol early in life.”

Professor Pearce says, “The findings are consistent with what has been found in several overseas studies. It will help us in our continuing research to try and find out what causes asthma, and how we can prevent it.”

Created: 16 September, 2004

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