Study will examine if lockdown impacts level of allergies among newborns

1,000 babies born between March and May will be looked at

Irish researchers will examine if coronavirus restrictions result in an increase in allergies among babies born since March, due to reduced exposure to the world around them.

Led by scientists at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) and Temple Street Hospital, the study will investigate whether the lower rates of viral infections and improved air quality which resulted from the lockdown are going to make allergic conditions more or less common in children born to families who have experienced social distancing and isolation.

Allergic diseases like eczema, asthma, hay fever and food allergy have become more common over the last 30 years.

This is thought to result from decreased exposure to infections, due to smaller family sizes, the introduction of effective immunisations against the most serious infections and community focus on hygiene, the RCSI said.


Jonathan Hourihane, professor of paediatrics at RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences , and who is leading the study, said the lockdown presents a “unique scientific opportunity to examine the early origins of often lifelong diseases”.

“After birth, a baby’s immune system soon focuses on all the new challenges that life outside the womb brings, including fighting off infections and responding to immunisations,” Prof Hourihane said.

“We want to see children playing on the floor, getting dirty, and being exposed to lots of people in lots of environments. The outcome of this is usually a stronger immune system, linked to a healthy population of gut bacteria, called the microbiome.”

He added that the country’s Covid-19 lockdown appears to have reduced the amount of viral infections, which typically circulate in the community.

“We have seen less than half the usual number of attendances at paediatric emergency departments and rates of seasonal influenza and other late spring upper respiratory viruses seemed much lower than usual during this time.”

The study will involve 1,000 infants born between March and May 2020. Parents of children born during that time in the Rotunda hospital and the Coombe hospital in Dublin will be invited by letter to participate.

A small finger prick blood sample will be taken at the beginning of the study and at one year to test for each baby’s Covid-19 antibody status, while stool samples from each child will be examined at six months and one year old to determine their gut bacteria/microbiome profile.

Allergy tests will be performed at one year and two years old to detect if they have developed markers of allergic conditions.

If allergies are detected, the children involved in the study will get allergy care faster than they would otherwise, the RCSI said.

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is Health Correspondent of The Irish Times