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Daycare Infections May Help Kids Avoid Later Sickness

New research shows that school-aged kids who attended childcare in large groups tend to have lower rates of infection than children who never went to daycare.

Toddlers with infections are healthier during school years

Around the world, a woman's place is increasingly in a factory or shop, a government ministry, or in front of a classroom. As more women work, their children often spend the day in childcare. And with that exposure to other children, it seems the kids often get sick with things like respiratory and ear infections. New research confirms that, but there's a silver lining in the sickness.

A research team led by Sylvana Côté of the University of Montréal looked at data from a large study that tracked the health of a group of Canadian youngsters for almost their first decade of life. She found that some of the children were more likely to get sick from the kinds of infections typically passed around a daycare center.

The daycare kids - who had been more likely to get sick then - were more likely to avoid infections when they entered elementary school a few years later.

"Children who started childcare early - that is, before two-and-a-half years - and who attended childcare where there were a large group of children, they have lower rates of infection than children who either never went to daycare or children who went to small-group daycare."

Côté says her study was not really designed to explain why children who started daycare as toddlers with numerous other youngsters had fewer infections years later. But she says other studies give clues as to what might be happening.

"We know that, for instance for asthma, that repeated stimulation of the immune system at an early age may lead to increased protection. And that may be a possible mechanism explaining why earlier [exposure] is leading to that protective effect."

So if it is a tradeoff - if the child who is less likely to get sick by not being in a daycare setting is more likely to get sick a few years later in school - what's the difference? Côté says there's a non-medical reason why it might be best to get sick earlier: it reduces the risk of having to stay home from school.

"We argue in the paper that missing school when you're starting to learn to read or when you learn to write may be more problematic for the future academic trajectory than missing daycare days," she said.

Sylvana Côté describes her research in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, a journal of the American Medical Association.