Autoimmune and allergic diseases have become a major health problem in the Western world during past decades. The hygiene hypothesis suggests that decreased microbial exposure in childhood leads to increasing prevalence of these diseases. This review summarizes epidemiological evidence and current immunological knowledge concerning the hygiene hypothesis. Recent results from Russian Karelia and Finland imply that environmental factors have greatly contributed to the increasing prevalence of immune-mediated disorders. Infections, or lack of them, may indeed be strongly involved in the development of both autoimmune and allergic diseases.