Associate Professor Jeroen Douwes.

Farm kids breathe easier

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Pre-natal exposure to farm animals and plants helps protect children from asthma, allergies and eczema.

Researchers from the Centre for Public Health Research discovered farmers' children had a lower incidence of allergic diseases than children not exposed to animals, grain and hay products. The findings have been published in the European Respiratory Journal.

Associate Professor Jeroen Douwes says it is the first study to show a direct link between exposures in utero and a significant reduction in asthma symptoms, hay fever and eczema.

“The risk is further reduced if children are currently exposed to farm conditions and that suggests that current exposures play a role in the continued protection against disease later in life.”

The research team surveyed 1,333 farmers' children and a reference group of 566 children aged from five to 17 years for the study.

It found that children with both pre-natal and current exposure to farm animals were 50 per cent less likely to have asthma than the reference group. Similar results were found for other allergic diseases such as eczema and hay fever.

Dr Douwes says a more detailed study of infants is needed to fully understand the link between exposure and reduction of disease.

“We need more information from pregnant women and their children, so we are continuing to recruit participants to the study,” Dr Douwes says. “In future, we may be able to develop a vaccine that could mimic exposure, or outline how people could make lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of allergic disease.”

The team is looking for pregnant women, mothers and children from both rural and urban areas from the lower North Island, including Taranaki, Taihape and Hawke's Bay.

Women who are interested can contact the centre's research nurse Heather Duckett on 0800-000-544.

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