Epidemiology is the study of the distribution of disease within populations. In collecting data about patterns of disease in a population, researchers are able not only to describe the scope of the problem in quantitative terms but also to further our understanding of the disease and its pathogenesis. Important clues may be uncovered about possible risk factors which may lead to the development of novel preventative or therapeutic strategies. An example of this in allergy is the high association between early exposure to bacterial infections and the absence of allergy in later childhood (Matricardi et al. 2000). This raises the question of whether we will be able to prevent allergies developing in children by alteration of the gastrointestinal flora and has stimulated research into DNA vaccines that use common bacterial DNA sequences to modulate the infant's immune system.

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