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Owning Cats Increases Allergy Risks

A new study contradicts past studies that suggested that owning a cat could help protect young children from pet allergies.

According to the new study, published in the May 2007 issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, cats and cat allergens in the home clearly raise the risk of the allergic sensitization of children up to the age of two.

For older children, however, the influence of the environment at home on the development of cat allergen sensitization decreases.

The study was conducted by scientists from the GSF – National Research Center for Environment and Health (GSF), Helmholtz-Association, when they evaluated the data of more than 2,000 children from Leipzig and Munich. The team of authors could even show that apart from keeping cats, even just repeated contact with cat hair within or outside the parental household increases the frequency of allergic sensitization on the basis of the detection of IgE-specific antibodies against cat allergens.

The study is based on data of the multicentric Lifestyle – Immune - System – Allergy (LISA) study, which sought to demonstrate the influence of lifestyle on the immune system and the development of allergic diseases in children.

In the framework of the study the parents of the children born between late 1997 and early 1999 were repeatedly questioned about different family and health parameters as well as the frequency of contact with cats and other pets. The longitudinal analysis of the development of allergic sensitization due to contact with cats, as it has just been published, also relies on a house dust sample taken from the parental home three months after each child’s birth, in which cat allergens were determined, as well as on the determination of the content of IgE antibodies to cat allergens in the children’s blood. The blood tests were carried out at the age of two and six years.

Up to the age of two the scientists found clear connections between exposure to cat allergens at home and the frequency of allergic sensitization. This connection was found to a lesser extent in six-year-old health outcomes

“Contact with cat allergens at home does not have the main significance in this age group,” says the head of the research unit Environmental Epidemiology at the GSF Institute of Epidemiology, Dr. Joachim Heinrich. “The most important risk factor for allergies in children is, however, still the family history. If the parents suffer from hay fever, asthma or pet allergies, their children are more likely to also show allergic symptoms”.

The study also shows that risk families in particular must still be advised not to keep cats and to avoid contact with cats in general. This, however, does not guarantee sufficient protection from allergic sensitisation with cat allergens.

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