Exposure to dogs may lower asthma risk in children

Man's best friend may turn out to be your child's best friend, as dogs may help ward off a virus linked to childhood asthma development.

In a study presented at the 2012 General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco found that dust from homes with dogs appear to protect against a common respiratory infection that can lead to the development of asthma in children.

Lead researcher Kei Fujimura and her team conducted the experiment on mice living in different conditions to mirror the possible effects on humans.

“In this study we found that feeding mice house dust from homes that have dogs present protected them against a childhood airway infectious agent, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV),” said Kei Fujimura, a researcher on the study.

According to the researcher, RSV infection is common in infants and can manifest as mild to severe respiratory symptoms. Severe infection in infancy is associated with a higher risk of developing childhood asthma.

The study revealed that 90 percent of children are affected with RSV worldwide.

By comparing three groups of animals – mice fed dust from houses with dogs before being infected with RSV, mice infected with RSV without exposure to dust, and a control group not infected with the virus – the team found that dog- associated house dust is distinct from house dust from homes with no pets and that the dust-fed mice did not show signs of RSV infection, such as inflammation and mucus production..

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The theory is, according to Fujimura, that, “microbes within dog-associated house dust may colonise the gastrointestinal tract, modulate immune responses and protect the host against the asthmagenic pathogen RSV”.

Fujimura noted that, in previous studies, pet ownership has been associated with protection against early childhood asthma development.

Fujimura hopes this study will be the first step towards identifying the different specific species which could lead to reducing the risk of childhood asthma development.

The next step, said Fujimura, is to identify exactly which microbial species is responsible for this protection against RSV, and whether the defence system is a result of animal-derived microbes or a more diverse combination of bacteria. The team has already analysed the microbiome of house pet intestines, so are on their way to answering this question.

The hope is that by identifying the microbe they can improve their knowledge of allergic diseases, and even develop vaccines for respiratory viruses.

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