Children raised in a house with two or more dogs or cats during the first year of life may be less likely to develop allergic diseases as compared with children raised without pets, according to a study in the August 28 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study was supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).
"The striking finding here is that high pet exposure early in life appears to protect against not only pet allergy but also other types of common allergies, such as allergy to dust mites, ragweed, and grass," says Marshall Plaut, M.D., chief of the allergic mechanisms section at NIAID. "Other studies have suggested a protective effect of pet exposure on allergy and asthma symptoms, but generally have looked only at whether pet exposure reduced pet allergy. This new finding changes the way scientists think about pet exposure; scientists must now figure out how pet exposure causes a general shift of the immune system away from an allergic response."
In their paper, lead author Dennis R. Ownby, M.D., of the Medical College of Georgia, and colleagues suggest that bacteria carried by pets may be responsible for suppressing the immune systems allergic response. These bacteria release molecules called endotoxins, and endotoxins are believed to shift the developing immune system away from responding to allergens through a class of lymphocytes called Th-2 cells, which are associated with allergic reactions. Instead, endotoxins may stimulate the immune system to activate Th-1 cells, which may block allergic reactions.
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