BACKGROUND: Lower respiratory tract infections in the first years of life are associated with later asthma, and this observation has led to a focus on the potential causal role of specific respiratory viruses, such as rhinoviruses and respiratory syncytial virus, in asthma development. However, many respiratory viruses and bacteria trigger similar respiratory symptoms and it is possible that the important risk factors for asthma are the underlying susceptibility to infection and the exaggerated reaction to such triggers rather than the particular triggering agent.
OBJECTIVE: We sought to study the association between specific infections in early life and development of asthma later in childhood.
METHODS: Three hundred thirteen children were followed prospectively in the Copenhagen Prospective Studies of Asthma in Childhood2000 high-risk birth cohort. Nine respiratory virus types (respiratory syncytial virus, rhinoviruses, other picornaviruses, coronaviruses 229E and OC43, parainfluenza viruses 1-3, influenza viruses AH1, AH3, and B, human metapneumovirus, adenoviruses, and bocavirus) and 3 pathogenic airway bacteria (Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae, and Moraxella catarrhalis) were identified in airway secretions sampled during episodes of troublesome lung symptoms in the first 3 years of life. Asthma was determined by age 7 years.
RESULTS: In unadjusted analyses, all viruses and pathogenic bacteria identified during episodes of troublesome lung symptoms were associated with increased risk of asthma by age 7 years with similar odds ratios for all viruses and pathogenic bacteria. After adjustment for the frequency of respiratory episodes, the particular triggers were no longer associated with asthma.
CONCLUSION: The number of respiratory episodes in the first years of life, but not the particular viral trigger, was associated with later asthma development. This suggests that future research should focus on the susceptibility and exaggerated response to lower respiratory tract infections in general rather than on the specific triggering agent.