Allergic disorders in African countries: linking immunology to accurate phenotype

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Identification and characterization of risk and protective factors for allergy is important for developing strategies for prevention or treatment. The prevalence of allergy is clearly higher in affluent countries than in developing countries like, e.g. Africa. Especially in urban areas of developing countries, allergy is however on the increase. In Africa, we have the unique opportunity to investigate risk and protective factors and the influence of urbanization and westernization, i.e. almost to take a look at Europe, Australia or the USA as they were before their allergy epidemics. Moreover, migrants from developing to affluent countries experiencing an increased burden of allergy provide new insights into risk and protective factors. Allergen exposure, diet and infections are the major exogenous influences playing a role as risk and protective factors. Depending on the nature, timing, chronicity and level of exposure, each of them can promote or inhibit allergy. Perhaps with the exception of infections, availability of data from Africa on their role in the development of allergy is limited. Detailed epidemiological studies in rural and urban Africa combined with basic immunological research are needed to unravel mechanisms of increase in allergy and of protection. The maturation of the immune system at young age under influence of exogenous factors results in differences in T-cell-skewing (Th1/Th2/Treg) and humoral responses. It is essential to perform studies from a ‘non-Eurocentric’ angle (e.g. local allergens, locally validated questionnaires and diagnostic procedures). Such studies will provide the affluent countries with new leads to combat the allergy epidemic and more importantly help prevent it in Africa.

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