Helicobacter pylori May Protect Children From Asthma

Expert Rev Clin Immunol. 2007;3(6):845-847. 

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According to recent findings presented at the 45th Annual Meeting of the Infectious Diseases Society of America in early October 2007, the bacteria that causes stomach ulcer may, at the same time, protect children from asthma.

Helicobacter pylori has been a resident of the human stomach for thousands of years. In the USA, 30% of the adult population carries the bacterium, 50% of whom acquired H. pylori by age 6 years. H. pylori infection increases with poor living conditions, and in developing countries, 90% of the adult population may be infected. The bacterium causes chronic inflammation of the inner lining of stomach, leading to stomach ulcer and potentially stomach cancer.

Improved living condition and increased use of antibiotics have led to a decrease in H. pylori infection in the USA. Less than 10% of American children younger than 13 years of age now carry the bacterium, while this percentage was more than 50% 50 years ago. Meanwhile, asthma incidence in children is on the rise.

Recent findings based on the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey involving 3327 children aged 3–13 years revealed that those carried H. pylori were 53% less likely to experience asthma than those who did not have the bacterium. Early-onset asthma (before 5 years of age) was also 44% less likely to happen in children who were already infected with H. pylori.

"It is clear that there is a biological cost to having H. pylori in an increased risk for getting ulcers and stomach cancer, but these typically occur relatively late in life," said Martin Blaser of New York University School of Medicine (NY, USA). "Meanwhile, asthma is a serious diagnosis especially in young children and can be deadly."

Beside asthma prevention, "H. pylori could be beneficial in other ways. For instance, we found that people with the bacteria were less likely to have had recent bouts of wheezing, allergic rhinitis, dermatitis, eczema or rash," said Yu Chen, the coauthor of the study. "Other studies have shown that it may protect against gastroesophageal reflux disease and esophageal cancer."

Although more research is needed to elucidate the exact mechanisms by which H. pylori may prevent asthma development, the findings imply a potential H. pylori-based asthma treatment. "If future studies confirm and extend our findings, one concept to consider is introducing H. pylori or something similar into the system to provide a protective effect," said Blaser.

Source: The Infectious Diseases Society of America, VA, USA: www.idsociety.org; Chen Y, Blaser MJ. Helicobacter pylori colonization is inversely associated with childhood asthma. Presented at the 45th Annual Meeting of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, San Diego, CA, USA, 4–7 October 2007.


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