NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Infants who are regularly exposed to farm animals appear to be less likely than others to develop inflammatory bowel disease in childhood, according to the findings of a German study published in the journal Pediatrics.
"Approximately 12,000 children and adolescents in Germany suffer from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)," write Dr. Katja Radon and colleagues at Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich. The recent increase in Crohn's disease, a type of inflammatory bowel disease, especially in industrialized countries, and its pronounced geographical variation, suggest that environmental factors contribute this condition.
The researchers examined the association between contact with farm animals in infancy and the development of Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis in childhood. Data were analyzed for 748 IBD cases (444 with Crohn's disease and 304 with ulcerative colitis) and 1,481 healthy "control" children.
The children with IBD were more likely than the control children to live in urban areas. Regular contact with farm animals during the first year of life was inversely associated with IBD, the investigators report.
Specifically, the children with Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis were about 50 percent less likely to have regular contact with farm animals in infancy compared with the healthy children.
"The results of this study indicate that farm animal contact during infancy, one of the major factors protecting individuals against childhood allergies, might also decrease the risk of juvenile IBD," Radon's team concludes. The findings also support the hypothesis that allergic diseases and IBD might have similar paths of development.
SOURCE: Pediatrics, August 2007.