Two articles on building immunity in kids

The first from the NYT discusses the fallacy that childhood illness somehow builds up the immune system making them healthier adults. Rather, it emphasizes correctly, that exposure to lots of harmless antigens seems to be the key to making kids less susceptible to asthma and allergies, not exposure to harmful ones. In other words, let your kids go outside and eat dirt, but don’t take them to chicken-pox parties (vaccinate them instead).

In a similar vein, Slate has an articleon eating more crap. While the point is made more carelessly, the idea is the same, that exposure to common harmless antigens may be protective for later exposures in preventing auto-immunity and decreasing severity of illness.

It reminds me, of All Creatures Great and Small, when Herriot is discussing the children of the local “knacker man” Mallock. The man spent all his time cutting up, and processing diseased carcasses of farm animals, and Herriot remarked that his kids, despite being surrounded with all the stinky filth imaginable, he were the healthiest children in the district.


  1. While I agree in the main, there are of course some risks associated with eating dirt. But there might also be some risks (not outwieghed by the benefits) of what vaccinations do to you immune system.

  2. That article is crank nonsense that proposes no biologically plausible explanations and instead is the usual laundry list of any bad things said about vaccines. Fail.

  3. Mark, one thing this article is not, is the usual laundry list of bad things said about vaccines. It makes no claims that vaccines are necessarily bad, or reponsible for SIDS or autism, it is suggesting there may be things going on that have not been adequately looked at. One point is they make is: “In both The New England Journal (1) and the journal Thorax, (2) articles have appeared stating that a healthy immune system has a ?bias? towards the cellular immune system, whereas people with allergies, asthma, and diseases of an autoimmune origin have a humoral-dominant system. It has also been shown that, once one of these subsets become dominant, it is difficult to shift the system to the other subset. (3)”
    and “Studies from Africa, England, Sweden, and New Zealand have consistently shown a greater incidence of allergic problems such as asthma and eczema, along with increasing patterns of sickness, among fully vaccinated children as compared to those with limited or no vaccines. (39-42)”
    I can think of other more likely explanations for this, such as vaccinated kids come from overclean environments.
    However the post was well referenced and hardly in line with the usual anti-vax wo. And by the way, I am just off to get a flu shot.

  4. Well, I’m glad you don’t buy into the vaccine scares but this article is full of lots of silliness. E.g.

    Vaccines in contrast are injected directly into the body, consequently bypassing the mucous membranes, leaving the mucosal immunity relatively weak and stunted.

    Oh really? That begs for a citation. There is no evidence that actually experiencing the illness is superior to immunity by exposure to the antigen. If anything, the evidence is that repeated illnesses can cause lasting harm. This is one of the most common vaccine myths, that actually having the illness is better than just having your immune system challenged. For some reason it reminds me of a parent saying, “in my day, we walked to school through the snow uphill both ways!”, and is similarly unlikely.

    Then the stuff about McClintock and a danger of gene transfer? This is again unfounded. We do not appear to pick up the genomes of bacteria after we get an infected joint, there’s no evidence to suspect that attenuated virus vaccines will somehow magically incorporate into our genomes. Further they mention viruses that show tendency to integrate, but there are several hundred varieties of viruses, and can’t just be referred to as “viruses”. They are interpreting properties of some viruses too broadly.

    As far as vaccine-induced autoimmunity? It’s a conceivable hypothesis, even if it hasn’t been borne out. There’s no evidence of increased autoimmunity with vaccination.

    Then there’s this statement:

    • At a conference a number of years ago, Dr. H.H. Fudenberg, world-renowned immunologist with hundreds of publications to his credit, made the following comments: “One vaccine decreases cell-mediated immunity by 50%, two vaccines by 70%…all triple vaccines (MMR, DTaP) markedly impair cell-mediated immunity, which predisposes to recurrent viral infections, especially otitis media, as well as yeast and fungi infections.”

    This guy may be have started out well, but the sunset of his career seems less favorable, pushing strange autism/vaccine stuff in a lot of non-indexed journals and Medical Hypotheses. It’s not an unknown occurrence. I can’t find any basis for this statement in the literature.

    The article then cites John Martin and stealth viruses (crank wikipedia entry alert)! This guy is a total fraud, lost his lab license, and his research tossed into the dust bin by any respectable scientist. There is no real evidence for stealth viruses, and he’s turned from legitimate science to working on the internet to create paranoia about his invented problem suggesting they cause everything from autism to CFS.

    I think I’m done right there. This paper is nonsense. Toss it out.

  5. OK thanks! Your last post gave me a bit more to go on…

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