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Keywords:

  • atopy;
  • environment;
  • Karelia;
  • population study;
  • time trends

To cite this article: Laatikainen T, von Hertzen L, Koskinen J-P, Mäkelä MJ, Jousilahti P, Kosunen TU, Vlasoff T, Ahlström M, Vartiainen E, Haahtela T. Allergy gap between Finnish and Russian Karelia on increase. Allergy 2011; 66: 886–892.

Abstract

Background:  Multinational time-trend analyses of atopic disease have shown that the East–West gradients in prevalence are shrinking. We set out to clarify whether the disparities in the occurrence of atopy and atopic diseases in Finnish and Russian Karelia during the past 10 years have diminished and how the prevalence of atopy has evolved with successive years of birth.

Methods:  Two surveys with identical methodology were performed in 1997/1998 and 2007. The study population comprised randomly selected adults, aged 25–54 years, from Finnish and Russian Karelia. Serum samples were collected for total and specific IgE measurements. Clinical data were obtained by questionnaires.

Results:  Sensitization rates to birch pollen increased from 7.8% to 14.8% (P < 0.001) and to cat from 6.1% to 10.8% (P < 0.001) in Finland. In Russia, no significant increase was found. Contrary to this, total IgE remained stable in Finland but decreased significantly (P < 0.001) in Russia. Analyses based on years of birth revealed that the prevalence of sensitization to allergens increased with successive birth years in Finland, but remained stable in Russia. Over the 10 years, self-reported physician-diagnosed asthma increased from 5.5% to 8.1% (P = 0.05) and hay fever from 8.1% to 13.2% (P < 0.001) in Finland.

Conclusions:  Disparities in the prevalence of atopy and atopic disease between Finnish and Russian Karelia have further grown. The ‘allergy epidemic’ continues in Finland and is mainly attributable to the years of birth effect shown in atopy prevalence. In Russia, no signs of the epidemic are discernible, although the decrease in total IgE may indicate a change in environmental exposure.