Introduction: The hygiene hypothesis, formulated to explain the increased incidence of allergic and autoimmune diseases observed in industrialized countries, remains controversial. We reflected upon this hypothesis during a medical mission to rural and impoverished villages of central Peru. Materials and methods: The mission was carried out in July 2015 to aid three Andean villages located near Cusco, and comprised 10 American physicians, 4 nurses, and 24 students. After recording the vital signs, patients were triaged by nurses based on the major complaint, visited by physicians, and prescribed medications. Physicians wrote their notes on a one-page form and established diagnoses purely on clinical grounds, without laboratory or imaging testing. Physician notes were then analyzed retrospectively in a de-identified and double-blinded fashion. Results: A total of 1075 patients (357 men and 718 women) were visited during 5 consecutive clinic days, 840 being adults and 235 <18 years of age. The most common complaints were back pain, stomach pain, headache, and vision loss. Osteoarthritis, gastritis, visual disturbances, and parasitic infections dominated the diagnostic categories. Thirty-seven patients (3 %) were diagnosed with an allergic or autoimmune disease, mainly represented by asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, a prevalence that was not significantly lower than that reported in industrialized countries. Conclusions: Although a study of this nature cannot definitively support or refute the hygiene hypothesis, it does provide a novel snapshot of disease prevalence in rural Andean villages of central Peru. The study could serve as a basis to implement basic public health interventions and prepare for future missions to the same or comparable regions.
- Hygiene hypothesis
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