Severe viral respiratory illnesses and atopy are risk factors for childhood wheezing and asthma. The aim of this study was to explore associations between severe respiratory infections and atopy in early childhood with wheeze and asthma persisting into later childhood.

147 children at high atopic risk were followed from birth to age 10 yrs. Data on all respiratory infections occurring in infancy were collected prospectively and viral aetiology ascertained. Atopy was measured by skin prick tests at 6 months, and 2 and 5 yrs. History of wheeze and doctor-diagnosed eczema and asthma was collected regularly until 10 yrs of age.

At 10 yrs, 60% of the cohort was atopic, 25.9% had current eczema, 18.4% current asthma and 20.4% persistent wheeze. 35.8% experienced at least one lower respiratory infection (LRI) associated with fever and/or wheeze in first year of life. Children who had wheezy or, in particular, febrile LRI in infancy and were atopic by 2 yrs, were significantly more likely to have persistent wheeze (RR 3.51, 95% CI 1.83–6.70; p<0.001) and current asthma (RR 4.92, 95% CI 2.59–9.36; p<0.001) at 10 yrs.

Severe viral respiratory infections in infancy and early atopy are risk factors for persistent wheeze and asthma. The strongest marker of the asthmatogenic potential of early life infections was concurrent fever. The occurrence of fever during respiratory illnesses is an important marker of risk for wheeze and asthma later in childhood, suggesting it should be measured in prospective studies of asthma aetiology.


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  • Support Statement

    This project has been supported by a National Health and Medical Research, Council Grant (Australia) and by the British Lung Foundation/Severin Wunderman, Family Foundation Programme (grant P00/2).

  • Statement of Interest

    None declared.

  • Received December 14, 2010.
  • Accepted August 5, 2011.
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