Introduction Early life infections may negatively influence health in later life, but there have been few studies of the association, due to the difficulty of obtaining adequate information from throughout life. This study utilised longitudinal data from the Newcastle Thousand Families Study, a prospective cohort of 1147 individuals born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne (UK) in 1947, to assess the impact of various childhood infectious diseases on mortality between ages 18 and 60 years.
Methods Detailed information was collected prospectively at birth and during childhood on a number of early life factors. Study members were “flagged” by the UK National Health Service Central Register when they died or emigrated. Death between ages 18–60 years was analysed in relation to childhood infections, adjusting for potential confounders, using Cox regression.
Results History of infection with either tuberculosis or whooping cough was independently predictive of mortality between ages 18 and 60 years [Adjusted HR, aHR=2.00 (95% CI 1.17 to 3.41) and 1.95 (95% CI 1.21 to 3.14) respectively]. Of the other variables examined, adult mortality was more common among men [aHR=0.62 (95% CI 0.39 to 0.97)] and among first-borns [aHR=2.95 (95% CI 1.52 to 5.73)]. The effect of whooping cough on mortality was largely attributable to a higher risk of death from cancer, particularly non-smoking related cancers.
Conclusion In a pre-vaccination cohort from Northern England (UK), childhood infection with tuberculosis or whooping cough was associated with an increased risk of premature adult mortality independent of other childhood circumstances. Further studies are required to investigate this association in different populations.
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