Mothers told, stick to soap and water with newborns
Use soap and water not antibacterial wipes, parents of newborns advised
Parents of newborns should use soap and water, not antibacterial gels and wipes, midwives have said, following research showing early exposure to bacteria can protect against asthma.
A number of studies have suggested that children have a greater change of developing allergies, asthma and other autoimmune diseases during adulthood if they are protected too much from germs while growing up.
New research published in the journal Nature Medicine suggests that the first two weeks of life could form a crucial “developmental window” in which exposure to bacteria is required.
The latest discovery, made in mice, supports the hypothesis that over-clean conditions in childhood can increase the likelihood of asthma and other allergy diseases.
The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) said parents of newborns ought still remain vigilant about hygiene - but should stick with soap and water, and avoid commercial antibacterial products, which could do more harm than good.
Louise Silverton, RCM deputy general secretary said: “Parents of newborns do need to take care but people can go too far with an obsession with cleanliness. Things like hand washing before feeding and after nappy changing; washing clothes at the right temperature; keeping babies away from pets and from visitors with infections are all important. But when it comes to washing, soap and water is sufficient - there is really no need for parents be using antibacterial wipes which can prevent the baby’s natural immunity from developing.”
According to the “hygiene hypothesis”, some germ exposure is necessary to prime the developing immune system and keep it under control.
The theory suggests that when exposure to parasites, bacteria and viruses is limited early in life children face a greater chance of having allergies, asthma, and other autoimmune diseases during adulthood.
Previous studies have found that children with older siblings, those who grew up on a farm or who attended day care early in life seem to show lower rates of allergies than those whose early childhood was more protected.
Although the lungs are sterile at birth, they are progressively colonised by microbes.
The new study showed that soon after birth, mice were vulnerable to inflammation in the lungs when exposed to allergens.
But over the first two weeks of life, colonisation of their lungs by bacteria led to the development of special immune cells with anti-asthma properties.
The regulatory T cells kept the immune system in check and suppressed the inflammation.
However, in cases where the lungs were kept sterile - preventing the development of bacteria, -they became more sensitive to bugs, resulting in asthma.
Dr Benjamin Marsland, from the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, lead author, said the study suggested that bacteria could also be used to develop treatments to prevent or counter asthma.
He said: “Our current study indicates that such treatments could be greatly optimised by targeting the narrow developmental window that exists following birth, or by targeting specific molecules.
“A key future step will be to translate these findings to human infants.”
Asthma attacks are caused by an over-strong inflammatory immune response to allergy triggers such as house dust mites, pets or air pollutants.
More than five million people in the UK are undergoing treatment for asthma, including 1.1 million children.
The UK’s asthma rates re among the highest in Europe, and the third highest for deaths, claiming 1250 deaths in 2012.
Dr Marsland said: “Epidemiological data point toward a critical period in early life during which environmental cues can set an individual on a trajectory toward respiratory health or disease. The neonatal immune system matures during this period, although little is known about the signals that lead to its maturation. Here we report that the formation of the lung microbiota is a key parameter in this process.”
Laura Donnelly - telegraph.co.uk