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A bright side to some infections

Stomach and urinary tract infections may have a bright side: A new study reports that they are associated with a reduced risk for rheumatoid arthritis.

Previous reports have suggested a connection between infection and rheumatoid arthritis, and this study aimed to test how infections at different sites might be involved.

The analysis, in The Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, used a Swedish database to investigate 2,831 people with rheumatoid arthritis matched by age, sex and other characteristics to 3,570 healthy controls.

Each participant reported incidents of gastrointestinal, urological and respiratory infections over the past two years.

Those who reported gastroenteritis were 29 per cent less likely to have arthritis, urinary infections 22 per cent less likely, and genital infections 20 per cent less likely than those who did not. In contrast, there was no association with any respiratory infection — sinusitis, tonsillitis or pneumonia.

The researchers acknowledge that their data depends on self-reports, which are not always reliable, and they emphasize that the study found no causal connection between infection and rheumatoid arthritis.

The lead author, Maria E.C. Sandberg, a postdoctoral researcher at the Karolinska Institute, said while this is still at the idea stage, “We hope it inspires further research that may give rise to new treatments in the future.”

Preemies outgrow asthma

Parents of premature babies worry about many things, including an increased risk of asthma. But a large Danish study has found that asthma, common in premature babies, disappears as the children grow older. By the time they are adults, their risk of asthma is no greater than that of babies born full term.

Researchers combed birth and health data on 1.8 million people born from 1980 to 2009, checking for gestational age and neonatal respiratory problems.

The study, published in PLOS One, found that 27 per cent of infants born earlier than 27 weeks required asthma medication during childhood, compared with 18 per cent of those born at 28-31 weeks, 13 per cent at 32-36 weeks, and nine per cent at full term.

But after controlling for socioeconomic status, maternal asthma, multiple birth and other factors, they found that by adolescence, the association had weakened, and by adulthood 2.4 per cent of the former preemies required medication compared with 2.1 per cent of those born full term, a clinically insignificant difference.

“There are more and more preemies,” said the lead author, Dr. Anne Louise Damgaard, a researcher at the University of Copenhagen, “and we don’t really know what happens to them as they get older.

But up to age 31, their lungs are pretty healthy. It’s possible that the differences may become more evident as they age.”

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