Sleeping with Pet Boosts Infection Risk?
Polls suggest that half of dog owners and up to three quarters of cat owners sleep with their pets.
by ABC News
(WASHINGTON) -- Increasingly considered part of the family, pets are thought to live in more than 60 percent of U.S. households, according to a 2009 study. And they're not just living with us. Polls suggest that half of dog owners and up to three quarters of cat owners sleep with their pets.
With pet intimacy on the rise, a report published in the CDC journal Emerging Infectious Diseases documents some unlikely conditions linked to sleeping with, kissing or being licked by pets. Although the examples are rare, they might make you think twice about curling up with your dog tonight.
-- MRSA: Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections start out as small, red, pimple-like boils on the skin. But they can quickly evolve into painful abscesses that can burrow through the skin infecting the blood, bones and even the heart. And because they're resistant to typical antibiotics, they can be tricky to treat.
-- Plague: After sleeping with a sick cat, a nine-year-old boy from Arizona came down with the plague, according to a 2000 report. All told, 23 cases of cat-associated human plague -- five of which were fatal -- occurred in eight states from 1977-1998, the authors reported. Seventeen cases were bubonic plague -- the cause of the "Black Death" that wiped out up to 60 percent of the European population from 1348-1420.
The plague, which was brought to the U.S. in the 1950s on ships from Asia, is treatable as long as it's detected early, according to Dr. William Karesh, a veterinarian and executive vice president for health and policy at EcoHealth Alliance. Dog owners are also at a higher risk for plague, according to a 2008 study. Four out of nine plague survivors reported sleeping in the same bed with a pet dog, compared with only three of 30 age- and neighborhood-matched controls.
-- Meningitis: Bacteria or viral infections can lead to meningitis -- life-threatening inflammation of brain and spinal cord protective coverings.
A 2009 study detailed two cases of meningitis in newborns linked to pets. One came after a cat stole the newborn's pacifier and used it as a toy. The other was attributed to a dog licking the baby's face. Out of 38 babies who developed meningitis in their first month, 27 had been licked or sniffed by a dog, according to the study.
A 44-year-old woman got meningitis after a similar infection, according to a 2010 report. The woman reported regularly kissing her dog as well as feeding it food out of her own mouth.
-- Worms: In the U.S., hookworms and roundworms take top spot for dog parasites. In humans, roundworms transmitted from dog fur can cause ocular larva migrans (OLM) if they migrate to the eyes or visceral larva migrans (VLM) if they migrate to other organs. The painful conditions can lead to blindness, encephalitis, heart and lung complications and even death.