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Cat in Home Linked to Eczema in Infancy

Questions arise over presumed allergy protection pets thought to provide

WEDNESDAY, May 24 (HealthDay News) -- Exposure to cats in the neonatal period appears to heighten the risk of eczema for infants and toddlers, according to the results of a study presented at the American Thoracic Society International Conference.

Esmeralda Morales, M.D., and colleagues at the University of Arizona in Tuscon, followed more than 400 children from birth to one year. Eczema developed in 27.6 percent of those in households with cats (134 children) compared with 17.8 percent of children in homes without cats (286). Exposure to two or more dogs in the home seemed to be protective, but the association was not statistically significant.

Past investigations have shown that children who develop eczema have a higher rate of other allergies and asthma. However, previous research has also suggested that the presence of household pets may prevent allergies in childhood or adulthood.

"Other studies have found that having cats or dogs at home seems to be protective against allergic diseases, so we expected to have similar findings. Pets are a source of a compound called endotoxin, and if a child is exposed to endotoxin early in life, the immune system may be skewed away from developing an allergic profile," said Morales in a statement. "The findings do seem to add more questions about pets and asthma and allergies. Since there are a lot of contradictory data out there already, clearly it's a topic that needs further research."

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