Background: The prevalence of allergic disease is known to be low in Eastern Europe.
Objective: To assess the association of suspected risk factors, including several closely linked to the hygiene hypothesis, with allergic symptoms and atopic sensitization in young school-aged children.
Methods: Observational study of 13 889 Belarusian children followed up at age 6.5 years in the Promotion of Breastfeeding Intervention Trial (PROBIT). Allergic symptoms and diseases were based on parental responses to the International Study of Asthma and Allergy in Childhood questionnaire, and prick tests to five common inhalant allergens were performed using standard methods.
Results: Significantly increased risks of wheezing and hayfever symptoms in the past 12 months, and of recurrent itchy rash were observed in boys, children with a positive first-degree family atopic history, and those who had received probiotics (especially as prophylaxis with antibiotic use). Pet ownership, contact with farm animals, the presence and number of younger and (especially) older siblings, and residency in rural areas of Western Belarus were associated with reduced risks. Maternal postnatal smoking was associated with wheezing and hayfever symptoms, while the duration of exclusive breastfeeding was not protective against any of the studied outcomes. The risk factors for allergic symptoms were similar in children with positive skin-prick tests to those in the overall cohort.
Conclusion: Many of the risk and protective factors we identified are consistent with those reported in Western countries and with the hygiene hypothesis. Further research on dietary and other environmental and genetic factors is necessary to understand the low prevalence of allergic disease in Belarus and other Eastern European countries.