Early herpes infection may protect against allergies

In a dissertation (‘Microbial and maternal influences on allergic sensitization during childhood: defining a role for monocytes’) for the Swedish Research Council, Shanie Saghafian Hedengren followed a group of children from birth to the age of five years. She showed the correlation between Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) contraction before the age of two and a lower risk of producing antibodies against allergens, so-called allergic sensitisation. It is also of interest that EBV infection after the age of two was correlated with a greater risk of sensitisation in five-year-olds.

EBV is a common herpes virus that the majority of the world’s population carry throughout their lives. It is a highly successful virus that is normally spread via saliva and infects people early in life. Most people hardly notice when their children become infected. Contracting EBV later in life can lead to glandular fever.

The dissertation shows that the innate immunity in EBV-infected children also reacts in a mitigated way, which may explain why early infection normally produces no symptoms. Shanie Saghafian Hedengren also showed that newborn children have weaker monocyte responses to microbes up to the age of two if they have an allergic mother.

‘Nevertheless, these high-risk children need adequate immune stimulation early in life in order to reduce the risk of allergies’ she said. ‘In other words, lots of love for the youngest babies in the form of many and sloppy kisses’.

Early-life EBV infection protects against persistent IgE sensitization.
Saghafian-Hedengren S, Sverremark-Ekström E, Linde A, Lilja G, Nilsson C. Department of Immunology, Wenner-Gren Institute, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden.
J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2009 Dec 4

Courtesy of Science Daily

First published in September 2009

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