"The interaction between a particular developmental period and seasonal environmental factors substantially [increase] the genetic predisposition for persistent asthma in young children," Adkinson said. "If the authors' hypothesis is correct, an effort to reduce viral infections by environmental controls or use of a vaccine could have a major impact on reducing asthma in children."
So, could timing your child's birth -- and by extension, its conception -- lower his or her asthma risk? Some physicians said the idea was not out of the realm of possibility.
"Will we actually advise our future 'mommies' that have asthma when to conceive, as it may have a clinical impact on those families with high risk for asthma?" asked Dr. Clifford Bassett, medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York.
However, most experts urged that making such a recommendation to asthma patients trying to conceive based on this study alone would be extremely unwise before more studies can confirm these findings.
"More confirmatory work, and the effect of an intervention to reduce viral infections during the first year of life will be required before recommendations for prevention can be made," Adkinson said.
After all, Adkinson reminded, the jury is still out on much asthma research. He pointed to a recent study published in the November 2007 issue of Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, which found that children enrolled in daycare programs who were exposed to viral infections during their first year of life were more protected against the development of asthma.
"So it is important not to jump to conclusions based on this study alone," Adkinson added.
However, if future studies confirm the relationship between contracting a respiratory infection during the first year of life and the development of childhood asthma, Hartert believes it will be a significant step towards reducing asthma rates in the U.S.
"The role of the environment in the development of asthma is not as strong as genes, but we can't change our genes, and we can change things that are in the environment," Hartert explained. "Decreasing the severity or preventing these infections might prevent lifelong chronic disease."