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Parent pacifiers may protect infants from allergies

A new Swedish study suggests that parents who want to protect their infants from developing allergies should try a simple approach to introducing their children to the wide world of microbes: Just pop their pacifiers into their own mouths before giving them back to their babies.

Researchers found that the transfer of oral bacteria from adults to infants seems to help train the immune system to ignore germs that don't pose a threat.

"The immune system's purpose is to differentiate between harmless and harmful," said Dr. Ron Ferdman, a pediatric allergist at Children's Hospital Los Angeles. "If your immune system is not presented with enough microbes, it just defaults to doing harmful attacks against things that are not harmful, like food, cat dander or dust mites."

A report released last week from the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics showed that the number of American children with allergies has increased dramatically in recent years: about 13 percent have skin allergies and 17 percent have respiratory allergies.

The Swedish researchers set out to learn whether very early microbial exposure during the first months of life affects allergy development. They found that children whose parents sucked on their pacifiers to clean them were less likely to have asthma, eczema and sensitivity to allergens than children whose parents did not clean the pacifiers this way.

The authors concluded that parental sucking of their baby's pacifiers may help decrease the risk of allergy caused by transfer of microbes through the parent's saliva.

For the study, published online May 6 in the journal Pediatrics, 206 pregnant women in Sweden were initially recruited as participants, and 187 of their infants were included in the research.

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