Can early infection explain the sibling effect in adult atopy?

P Cullinan, J M Harris, A J Newman Taylor, M Jones, P Taylor, J R Dave, P Mills, S A Moffat, C W White, J K Figg, A M Moon, M C Barnes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

52 Citations (Scopus)


Atopy is strongly and inversely related to family size, a pattern which is plausibly assumed to reflect a protective effect of early infection. The current study tested this hypothesis by case-referent analysis of an adult cohort in the UK. The study established that atopy, defined by prick tests to common aeroallergens, was less common among those from larger families after adjustment for potentially confounding factors. In particular, a higher number of brothers appeared to offer protection. The current authors attempted to explain this distribution by examining contemporary family-doctor records of early childhood infections; and by a number of other indirect indices of early-life "hygiene". The sibling effect was unexplained by evidence of infection with either hepatitis A or Helicobacter pylori, or by counts of infections or antibiotic prescriptions in early life. There was a significant and independent negative association between the number of gastrointestinal infections before the age of 5 yrs and the odds of atopy. Dog ownership and home moving in early life also displayed potentially protective associations. Although the current study replicates the finding that atopy is inversely associated with family size this could not be explained by documentary or serological evidence of early infection. The findings support the suggestion that the "sibling effect" in atopy may not simply reflect protection by early infection.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)956-61
Number of pages6
JournalEuropean Respiratory Journal
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2003


  • Adult
  • Age of Onset
  • Allergens
  • Cohort Studies
  • Demography
  • Female
  • Great Britain
  • Humans
  • Hygiene
  • Hypersensitivity
  • Infection
  • Male
  • Siblings
  • Socioeconomic Factors


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