Cats and dogs reduce allergy risk



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Lower allergy risk for children with early contact with dogs and cats

The likelihood of an allergy to animal hair is not increased by the contact of small children with dogs and cats, as was previously assumed, but rather reduced. This is the conclusion reached by researchers at Detroit Henry Ford Hospital, USA, when evaluating the data from a long-term study that started in the 1980s.

Overall, children's allergy risk is not increased through contact with pets, but tends to be reduced, Ganesa Wegienka from Detroit Henry Ford Hospital and colleagues report in the current issue of the specialist magazine "Clinical & Experimental Allergy". According to the US researchers, it is primarily the first years of life that are decisive for the allergy risk of adolescents. However, contact with pets does not have a negative impact on the allergy risk at this point, but rather brings advantages, says Wegienka and colleagues.

Keeping pets with no negative effect on allergy risk The previous assumption that children's allergy risk would increase through early contact with pets has not been confirmed in their current studies, the US researchers at Detroit Henry Ford Hospital said. The concern about contact with animal hair is unfounded here, emphasized Ganesa Wegienka and colleagues. Because the handling of dogs and cats does not in any way negatively influence the allergy risk of adolescents, according to the results of the current study. Allergies and asthma do not occur more often in children who have had early contact with pets than in petless households, the US researchers explained in the current issue of the journal "Clinical & Experimental Allergy". On the basis of the data from the Detroit Childhood Allergy Study, which has recorded the health and living conditions of the subjects born between 1987 and 1989 every year since the late 1980s, the researchers were able to determine whether there is a connection between the keeping of pets and the subsequent risk of allergy .

Contact with cats reduces allergy risk by around 50 percent The US researchers were able to use the available data to check whether and how long the children were in contact with dogs or cats that spent more than half the time indoors. At the age of 18, 565 study participants finally submitted a blood sample that could be used to test the antibodies against dog and cat allergens. The researchers found that adolescents who were in contact with pets produced as many or fewer antibodies as the children without dogs or cats. A key finding of the current study is that adolescents who grow up with dogs and cats do not suffer from animal allergies more often than children who have no contact with pets. In addition, the US researchers found that especially the first year of life has a decisive influence on the later allergy risk. Adolescents who lived closely with cats in the first year are subject to an allergy risk to cat hair that is around 50 percent lower, the US researchers report.

First year of life crucial for allergy risk? "We are providing new evidence that experiences in the first year of life affect health later in life," emphasized Ganesa Wegienka, a doctor and biostatist at Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit. However, the positive effects on the allergy risk cannot be generalized either, because contact with dogs showed positive effects only in the boys. If the boys had contact with dogs in the first year of life, this also reduced the risk of allergy by around 50 percent, but for the girls the contact with the yapping four-legged friends had no effect. According to the US researchers, this is probably due to the different ways in which girls and boys treat dogs.

Further studies planned for the early phase of life In a next step, the US researchers want to investigate the connection between contact with pets and the risk of allergy in more detail. According to Ganesa Wegienka, the focus should be primarily on the early phase of life, but enable the observation of smaller time windows. For example, studies on the first month or the first three months of life are conceivable, report Wegienka and colleagues. According to the US researchers, this is the life phase in which the foundations for later immune defense are laid. According to the experts, the immune system, which is hardly developed immediately after birth, is particularly susceptible and only becomes more and more pronounced through contact with the disease germs. Appropriate antibodies must first be formed and the defense reactions learned, so to speak. The handling of pets obviously has a beneficial effect. (fp)

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