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Infant infections may double risk of adult early death from respiratory disease

In the drive to prevent early deaths from respiratory diseases worldwide, health experts focus on curtailing exposure to proven causes like cigarette smoke.

Now, research in the journal the Lancet shows early childhood illnesses exert a strong influence as well.

After controlling for socioeconomic factors and smoking exposure, this 73-year study of almost 3,600 people finds having infections like bronchitis or pneumonia by age 2 doubles the risk of dying early from respiratory disease as an adult.

Such infant illnesses could potentially cause one in five premature deaths from respiratory disease, compared to three in five from smoking.

 Research also links early lower respiratory infections to adult lung impairments, asthma and COPD, which causes most chronic respiratory disease deaths.

Nicholas Gerbis joined KJZZ’s Arizona Science Desk in 2016. A longtime science, health and technology journalist and editor, his extensive background in related nonprofit and science communications inform his reporting on Earth and space sciences, neuroscience and behavioral health, and bioscience/biotechnology.Apart from travel and three years in Delaware spent earning his master’s degree in physical geography (climatology), Gerbis has spent most of his life in Arizona. He also holds a master’s degree in journalism and mass communication from Arizona State University’s Cronkite School and a bachelor’s degree in geography (climatology/meteorology), also from ASU.Gerbis briefly “retired in reverse” and moved from Arizona to Wisconsin, where he taught science history and science-fiction film courses at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He is glad to be back in the Valley and enjoys contributing to KJZZ’s Untold Arizona series.During the COVID-19 pandemic, Gerbis focused almost solely on coronavirus-related stories and analysis. In addition to reporting on the course of the disease and related research, he delved into deeper questions, such as the impact of shutdowns on science and medicine, the roots of vaccine reluctance and the policies that exacerbated the virus’s impact, particularly on vulnerable populations.