Bacteria May Be to Blame for Childhood Asthma Attacks

By Catherine Donaldson-Evans

Bacterial infections may trigger as many asthma attacks in children as viruses do, new research suggests.

Viral respiratory infections, including colds and flu-like illnesses, have long been known to cause kids and adults with asthma to have an attack — characterized by a fit of coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.

But a study by Danish scientists shows that treatable bacterial infections can also be a culprit.

“We found a significant relationship between bacterial infections and acute asthma attacks — above and beyond the expected relationship between viral infections and attacks,” study author Hans Bisgaard, a professor of pediatrics at the Danish Pediatric Asthma Care Centre at the University of Copenhagen, said in a statement.

Researchers studied 361 asthmatic children between the ages of 4 weeks and 3 years old, looking at the existence of viral and bacterial infections during severe attacks. They found that the number of asthma spells was equally as high in kids suffering from bacterial respiratory infections as it was in those with viruses.

The findings could, in part, be explained by the fact that some respiratory viruses become bacterial infections, said Dr. Cliff Bassett, the medical director of Allergy & Asthma Care of New York.

“Sometimes when you get a cold, it turns into sinusitis,” he told AOL Health. “Sinusitis is also a trigger for people with asthma. Bacterial sinusitis goes hand in hand with asthma.”

Between 10 and 15 percent of those with colds and other viruses will develop sinusitis, according to Bassett. Still, a “more common scenario” is a bout of asthma brought on by a viral infection, he said.

“This preliminary study in children reflects how there are a variety of asthma-triggered events that need consideration by the practitioner,” Bassett said.

The research, published in the October 4 issue of the British Medical Journal, could pave the way for a new treatment for asthma attacks in children, Bisgaard believes.

“This indicates that bacteria can exacerbate asthma symptoms even if they aren’t infected with a virus,” said Bisgaard. “The findings open up an entirely new method for treating severe asthma attacks. We can’t treat viral infections, but scientists will now look into whether treatment with antibiotics can help children when they have an asthma attack if they are also suffering from a bacterial infection.”

The Danish Pediatric Asthma Care Centre plans to expand the research with a large-scale clinical study looking at how effective antibiotics are in treating asthma attacks.

“Being able to use antibiotics to treat asthma attacks in children would be revolutionary,” said Bisgaard.

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