Thorax 62:631-637 doi:10.1136/thx.2006.072124
  • Epidemiology

Recorded infections and antibiotics in early life: associations with allergy in UK children and their parents

  1. Jessica M Harris,
  2. Pamela Mills,
  3. Carol White,
  4. Susan Moffat,
  5. Anthony J Newman Taylor,
  6. Paul Cullinan
  1. Department of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Imperial College (National Heart and Lung Institute), London SW3 6LR, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
    Jessica Harris
    Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Imperial College School of Medicine (NHLI), Manresa Road, London SW3 6LR, UK; jessica.harris{at}
  • Received 21 September 2006
  • Accepted 9 January 2007
  • Published Online First 8 February 2007


Background: It is suggested that the inverse relationship between allergic disease and family size reflects reduced exposure to early life infections, and that antibiotic treatment in childhood diminishes any protective effect of such infection.

Methods: A birth cohort study was undertaken in 642 children recruited before birth and seen annually until the age of 8 years. Reported infections and prescribed antibiotics by the age of 5 years were counted from GP records and comparisons were made with a previous study of their parents.

Results: At the age of 8 years, 104 children (19%) were atopic, 79 (13%) were currently wheezy and 124 (21%) had seasonal rhinitis. 577 children (97%) had at least three infections recorded by age 5, a figure much higher than that of their parents (69%). By the age of 5 only 11 children (2%) had never received a prescription for antibiotics; the corresponding figure for the parents was 24%. Higher numbers of infections were recorded for firstborn children. After adjusting for parental atopy and birth order, there was no association between infection counts and atopy (OR 1.01 (95% CI 0.99 to 1.03) per infection). Significant positive associations were found for wheeze and seasonal rhinitis. An increased risk of current wheeze was found for each antibiotic prescription (adjusted OR 1.07 (95% CI 1.03 to 1.10)) but not for atopy. This was primarily explained by prescriptions for respiratory infections. Similar patterns were observed for seasonal rhinitis.

Conclusions: Despite very high rates of recorded early life infections and antibiotic prescriptions, no plausibly causative relationships were found with subsequent respiratory allergies.


  • Published Online First 8 February 2007

  • This study was supported by the Colt Foundation.

  • Competing interests: None declared.