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ImageA new study has suggested that exposure to worm infections in the womb may protect a newborn infant from developing eczema.

The research supports the so-called ''hygiene hypothesis'', which proposes that exposure to infections in early childhood can modify the immune system and protect the child from allergies later in life.

A preliminary study carried out at the MRC/UVRI Uganda Research Unit on AIDS in Entebbe, Uganda, in 2005 showed a reduced risk of eczema among infants whose mothers had worms and suggested an increased incidence among infants of mothers who received albendazole-a commonly used drug to treat worm infection-during pregnancy compared to infants whose mothers received a placebo.

In a follow-up study, researchers carried out a randomised, double-blind trial on 2,507 pregnant women in Uganda, comparing those treated with either albendazole or a second drug, praziquantel, against those administered a placebo, and looking at how this affected their offspring''s risk of developing eczema.

Harriet Mpairwe, first author of the new study, said, "Worm infections can adversely affect a person's health, but the evidence also suggests that exposure to infection early in a child's life can have a beneficial effect in terms of modifying its immune system and protecting against allergies. We wanted to examine in a large cohort what effect de-worming women during pregnancy has on their offspring."

The findings have been published in the journal Pediatric Allergy and Immunology.

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