Researchers in Australia are about to embark on a trial examining whether the BCG vaccine against TB could also protect against allergic sensitization.
The BCG vaccine was phased out of the the Australian immunization schedule three decade ago, and in recent years the country has experienced skyrocketing allergy rates. Melbourne researchers hypothesize that the two could be linked, and will examine whether the vaccine could reduce rates of food allergies and atopic complaints such as asthma, eczema and hayfever.
"In Australia unfortunately we seem to be the capital of food allergy in the world,” said Professor Katie Allen. “Certainly allergy has increased dramatically since the 1980’s so there may be some association with that.”
The hygiene hypothesis states that cleanlier lifestyles may be responsible for increasing allergy rates among children. The BCG vaccine could be acting as an anti-hygiene vaccine, encouraging babies to develop their immune systems.
“We believe BCG is a simple, safe and well-tolerated vaccine that we could use to replace that absence of early microbial exposure or of our clean start to life,” said Professor Nigel Curtis of the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute and the University of Melbourne.
1400 babies born at the Mercy Hospital will be recruited for the trial, and half will receive the BCG vaccine.
The link between BCG vaccination and allergic sensitization has been studied before, with a 2011 systematic review and meta-analysis published in Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology concluding that the association is unlikely.
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