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COVID-19 ‘pandemic babies’ have developed ‘fascinating’ protection against common disease, study finds

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Lockdowns imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic led to changes in newborns that could have protected them against allergies, a study suggests.

Infants raised when corona virus Irish researchers found that social distancing restrictions in place contained more beneficial microbes acquired after birth by their mothers, which could act as a defense against disease.

Scientists believe this has led “pandemic babies” to have lower-than-expected rates of allergies, including food allergies, compared to pre-pandemic babies.COVID babies.

The results, published in the journal Allergy, highlighted the benefits for the intestinal health of young people thanks to COVID-19 lockdowns, including lower infection rates and consequent use of antibiotics, as well as increased duration of breastfeeding.

The ecosystem of bacteria naturally present in the gut, called the microbiome, plays an essential role in human health.

Researchers analyzed stool samples from 351 babies born during the first three months of the pandemic, comparing them to a pre-pandemic group.

Online questionnaires were used to collect information on diet, home environment and health.

Stool samples were collected at six, 12, and 24 months, and allergy testing was performed at 12 and 24 months.

The study found significant differences in the microbiome development of babies born during lockdown periods compared to pre-pandemic babies.

Newborn in the hands of his mother.  Baby care.  Childbirth and motherhood concept.  Mother and baby.  Photo: iStock
Picture:
Fewer infections have reduced the need for antibiotics, which kill good bacteria. Photo: iStock

It found that only about 5% of confined babies developed a food allergy by the age of one, compared to 22.8% in the pre-COVID group.

Fewer infections due to no exposure to germs has also reduced the need for antibiotics, which kill good bacteria.

Among confined babies, only 17% needed an antibiotic before the age of one.

In the pre-pandemic group, 80% of infants had taken antibiotics by 12 months.

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Professor Jonathan Hourihane, consultant pediatrician at Children’s Health Ireland Temple Street and co-lead author of the research, said: “This study provides a new perspective on the impact of early life social isolation on the gut microbiome .

“Notably, lower allergy rates among newborns during lockdown could highlight the impact of lifestyle and environmental factors, such as frequent antibiotic use, on the increase in disease allergic.

“We hope to re-examine these children when they are five years old to see if there are any longer-term impacts of these interesting changes in the early gut microbiome.”

Liam O’Mahony, lead author and professor of immunology at University College Cork, said: “While we all start life sterile, the communities of beneficial microbes that inhabit our gut develop during the early years of life.

“We took the opportunity to study microbiome development in infants raised during the early COVID-19 era, when strict social distancing restrictions were in place, as the complexity of early life exposures was reduced, which facilitated more precise identification of major early life exposures. .

“Prior to this study, it was difficult to fully determine the relative contribution of these multiple environmental exposures and dietary factors on microbiome development in early life.”

He added: “A fascinating result is that due to the reduction in human exposures and protection against infections, only 17% of infants needed an antibiotic before the age of one year, which correlated with higher levels of beneficial bacteria such as bifidobacteria.

“The study provided a rich repository of data, which we will continue to analyze and study in the future.”

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