Household pets may protect infants from allergies

If clients are concerned household pets may trigger allergies in infants, tell them not to worry, a new study suggests.

Researchers at the University of Turku in Finland discovered that infants in households with pets shared some of the animals’ gut bacteria, and could explain why the infants were protected against some allergies.

The study was published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology on Sept. 3.

“Earlier it was thought that exposure to pets early in childhood was a risk factor for developing allergic disease,” Merja Nermes, MD, Department of Pediatrics at the University of Turku in Finland, and co-author, told Reuters.

“Later epidemiologic studies have given contradictory results and even suggested that early exposure to pets may be protective against allergies, though the mechanisms of this protective effect have remained elusive.”

The researchers tested fecal samples of 51 infants of families with furry pets (rabbits, dogs, or cats) and, as a comparison group, 64 infants with no household pets, reported Reuters. The groups were tested for two types of Bifidobacteria found specifically in animal guts: B. thermophilum and B. pseudolongum.

Researchers then tested the babies at six months for other allergic reactions. The 19 infants who had reactions had no B. thermophilum bacteria in their fecal samples, reported Reuters.

Human-specific Bifidobacteria have beneficial health effects, and animal-specific strains may also be beneficial, Nermes told Reuters.

Photo Credit: © iStock/AleksandarNakic

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