Keeping a Dog Can Prevent Childhood Asthma

By Chelsea Whyte on June 20, 2012 5:07 PM EDT

dog
Your dog shedding on the couch may not be such a bad thing. Researchers find that dust in homes with dogs can prevent childhood asthma. (Photo: Creative Commons)

Man's best friend may turn out to be your lung's best friend. 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 appears to protect against a common respiratory infection that can lead to the development of asthma in children.

"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). 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," said one of the study's researchers Kei Fujimura.

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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 the dust-fed mice did not show signs of RSV infection, such as inflammation and mucus production.

They also had a different composition of gut bacteria. Previous work by Fujimura and her colleagues has shown that the microbiome, or collection of bacterial communities, in house dust from homes with a pet cat or dog is distinct from home dust with no pets.

"This led us to speculate that microbes within dog-associated house dust may colonize the gastrointestinal tract, modulate immune responses and protect the host against the asthmagenic pathogen RSV," Fujimura said. "This study represents the first step towards determining the identity of the microbial species which confer protection against this respiratory pathogen."

She said the identification of the specific species or mechanisms that give this protective effect could lead to microbial-based therapies to combat RSV and reduce childhood asthma development.

"Everybody appreciates the fact that we're all missing something big in asthma," Dr. Robert Mellins, a pediatric pulmonologist at Columbia University, told ABC News. "People have appreciated that viral infections clearly have an association, and this kind of experiment is interesting because it suggests a mechanism of how that could come about."

Professor Suresh Mahalingam, a virologist at Griffith University in Brisbane, says that this is an important area of research as RSV affects 90 per cent of children worldwide, according to Discovery News.

"Whether this experiment has relevance to humans, no one has yet shown," he told Discovery. "The way forward now is to carry out some population-based studies to see if there's a correlation between reduced RSV infection among children living in the presence of dogs." 

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