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Health Team

Daycare might help prevent childhood leukemia

Posted May 16, 2008 3:32 p.m. EDT
Updated May 16, 2008 7:30 p.m. EDT

Those colds and coughs running through children at daycare might help give those kids some protection against childhood leukemia, according an analysis of studies relating to the disease.

Young children who attended daycare had a 30 percent lower risk of developing leukemia, according to the study headed up by Dr. Patricia Buffler, professor of epidemiology at the University of California, Berkeley.

"Send your children to daycare. Let them eat dirt, let them have lots of early infection," said Dr. Adrienne Morgan, with the Children with Leukemia charity. "It's good for them."

Researchers said the study bolsters this theory: Unlike stay-at-home children, those in daycare are exposed to plenty of colds and other illnesses. Those "pathogens, germs, viruses, bacteria" ensure that children's immune systems are challenged at an early age, said Dr. Kenneth Gottesman, with St. Luke's-Roosevelt in New York.

That challenge might, in turn, help the body produce antibodies that protect against childhood leukemia. The disease usually strikes between the ages of two and five.

Doctors caution that since leukemia only affects a small percentage of children, parents should not purposely expose their children to illness.

However, going to daycare or regularly hanging out at the playground should provide that extra level of protection.

"I think these exposures are part of growing up, and in general, they're minor, mild illnesses," Gottesman said.

Click here for more information on the link between daycare and childhood leukemia.