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07-07-2011 | General practice | Article

Stressful events raise children’s infectious disease admission risk


Free abstract

MedWire News: Children who experience stressful life events (SFLEs) have an increased risk for infectious disease (ID) requiring hospitalization, suggests research published in the European Journal of Pediatrics.

Noting that stress has been linked to an increased susceptibility to infection in adults, the researchers looked for a relationship between parental death, sibling death, or parental divorce and admission to hospital for less severe (LS)ID or severe (S)ID in all Danish children born between 1977 and 2004 up to the age of 15 years.

SID was defined as conditions that would immediately require hospital admission such as sepsis or meningitis, whereas admission of children with LSID would depend on the physician's judgment on how well the parents were able to cope with their sick child.

Overall, 1,649,180 children were followed-up for 17,164,816 patient-years, during which time 2.1% lost a parent, 0.5% lost a sibling, and 11.8% experienced parental divorce.

Compared with children who had no SFLEs, children with SFLEs were a significant 13% more likely to be hospitalized with LSID, after adjusting for child's gender, age, and time period. However, there was no increased risk for SID hospitalization with SFLE exposure.

Further analysis showed that parental divorce was associated with a significant 11% increased risk for both LSID and SID hospital admissions.

No such relationship was found for parental death but children who lost a sibling had a 34% increased risk for LSID but no increased risk for SID.

Children who experienced a SFLE had a 14% increased risk for both upper respiratory infection and meningitis. Parental divorce was the largest contributor to this risk for meningitis (relative rate=21%).

"Although we cannot determine whether our observations are the result of a biological effect of stress, adoption of unhealthy behaviors, or increased likelihood of hospitalization, our findings do have public health relevance as a considerable proportion of the children today will be exposed to SFLE, the majority to parental divorce," comment Nete Nielsen (Statens Serum Institut, Copenhagen, Denmark) and co-workers.

They add: "If severe parental conflicts, inconsistency in parenting styles and not at least disagreement concerning custody of the children could be avoided, the stress level experienced by the involved children and parents will, without doubt, be reduced considerably."

MedWire ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2011

By Lynda Williams

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