Fido Is A Kid’s Best Friend

If you're expecting a child should you be shopping for a dog alongside your crib and other baby paraphernalia?  That's one conclusion of a study in this week's Pediatrics, looking at the number of upper respiratory infections, or URIs, for the cognoscenti, among infants in their first year of life, living in homes that also owned dogs or cats, or both.  As Rick and I quip in PodMed, maybe that's good reason to visit an animal shelter and recycle a life while protecting your child.

This study was undertaken by those inventive Finnish, whose ability to gather socially conscious subjects into studies such as this one is the envy of public health proponents everywhere.  Investigators began following almost 400 children in utero, during the third trimester of pregnancy.  All the study children were born between September 2002 and May 2005.

Extensive data collection was accomplished with weekly diary questionnaires parents kept from the ninth postnatal week, asking questions about infectious symptoms, healthcare attendance, and dog and cat exposure. More data was gathered on those children identified as unwell by parents, including the presence of fever, cough, rash, wheezing, middle ear infection, or urinary tract infection.

Pet exposure was broken down into categories based on how much time the dog or cat spent inside the house. Breastfeeding either completely, partially, or not at all was also noted, as well as other data on parental allergies, education level, siblings, and the season of the subject's birth.

The study found that both dog and cat contact in early life appeared to result in a greater number of healthy weeks and fewer URIs among infants exposed to these pets in the home compared to those without such exposure.  Dogs appeared to confer more protection than cats.  These infants also had fewer episodes of otitis media, or middle ear infections.

Interestingly, the middle ground of dog exposure appeared best, that is, the dog was outside some of the time rather than in the house all the time.  The authors speculate that these dogs may bring more dirt inside with them, thus exposing the nascent immune system to a range of bacteria and other organisms that may help it become more competent in fighting off the bad guys, such as rhinoviruses.  Rick and I note a study we discussed in a podcast some years ago showing that children reared on farms experienced less allergy and asthma than their city-dwelling counterparts.  Perhaps similar mechanisms are at work here, helping the individual develop a library of friend and foe from an immune response perspective.

In any case, Rick advocates for visiting a shelter and at least procuring a dog for your nieces or nephews, while my concern is the impact such an action may have on your relationship with your brothers or sisters.  While considering pet ownership for yourself or others, you may want to sip cranberry juice to prevent urinary tract infections, according to a study in Archives of Internal Medicine.  And you may want to add vodka to that, according to a study in the British Medical Journal showing that women who consume moderate alcohol develop fewer cases of rheumatoid arthritis.  And finally, HIV infection can be curtailed in some at-risk populations, three studies in the New England Journal of Medicine find.  Until next week, y'all live well.

 

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