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Scientists Reveal One More Reason Pets Are Awesome — They May Help Prevent Asthma in Kids

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Pet allergens may have an upside.

Children exposed to high indoor levels of pet or pest allergens during infancy have a lower risk of developing asthma by 7 years of age, according to new research.

The findings may provide clues for the design of strategies to prevent asthma from developing. 

Previous studies have established that reducing allergen exposure in the home helps control established asthma. But the new research, supported by the National Institutes of Health, suggest that exposure to certain allergens early in life, before asthma develops, may have a preventive effect. 

“We are learning more and more about how the early-life environment can influence the development of certain health conditions,” said NIAID Director Dr. Anthony S. Fauci. “If we can develop strategies to prevent asthma before it develops, we will help alleviate the burden this disease places on millions of people, as well as on their families and communities.”

The study investigates risk factors for asthma among children living in urban areas, where the disease is more prevalent and severe. Since 2005, it has enrolled 560 newborns from Baltimore, Boston, New York City and St. Louis at high risk for developing asthma because at least one parent has asthma or allergies.

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Among 442 children for whom researchers had enough data to assess asthma status at age 7 years, 130 children (29 percent) had asthma. Higher concentrations of cockroach, mouse and cat allergens present in dust samples collected from the children’s homes during the first three years of life (at age 3 months, 2 years and 3 years) were linked to a lower risk of asthma by age 7 years.

There was a similar association for dog allergen, but it was not statistically significant. That means it could be due to chance.

Additional analysis indicated that exposure to higher levels of these four allergens at age 3 months was associated with a lower risk of developing asthma.

“Our observations imply that exposure to a broad variety of indoor allergens, bacteria and bacterial products early in life may reduce the risk of developing asthma,” said Dr. James E. Gern, the principal investigator of URECA and a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Additional research may help us identify specific targets for asthma prevention strategies.”

The study was published Sept. 19 in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

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