Study: pets, roaches, even mice provide immunity boost

There is an old saying about how kids should eat a pound of dirt in a lifetime. That simple notion is meant to be taken in a figurative sense, but in an attempt to have parents lighten up about keeping their kids healthy and safe, many parents today have done just the opposite. Their effort to create a sterile environment has not helped their kids. In fact, a new study says it may unintentionally hurt them by not exposing them to immune-boosting germs.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center studied nearly 500 babies in large cities, such as New York and Boston, and tracked their health, along with allergen and bacteria levels in their homes. The study found that babies who were exposed to pets within the first year of life were less likely to suffer from asthma and allergies than those babies who were exposed after age 1. It also found that babies exposed to cockroaches and mouse danders were less likely to suffer from wheezing by age 3.

Eileen Watterson of Madison Park agrees, “when we were kids, we never had Purell or disinfectant wipes in our backpacks. We simply practiced proper hygiene, washed our hands when we came home and before we ate, and went on about life.”

The mother of five maintains that she favors “practicing common sense over practicing germ panic.” She also admits that she does not carry any precautionary cleaners other than regular baby wipes in her diaper bag.

While not many of us would be willing to live with mice or insects for the sake of allergy immunity, this study reaffirms the belief that pets do not pose an elevated allergy risk for babies. On the contrary, our furry children help our human children fight off allergies while providing an immunity boost. The Wattersons have had pets (two cats and a dog) since the family’s first child was born.

“So far, so good. None of our children are allergic and I do believe that exposing kids to normal, everyday germs is essential to a healthy childhood.”

According to the study, the sooner you introduce your baby to bacteria and dander, the better. After age 1, the incidence of contracting allergies and wheezing actually increase upon exposure.

The study was published in the June issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Danielle Sullivan, a mom of three, has worked as a writer and editor in the parenting world for more than 10 years. Sullivan also writes about pets and parenting for Disney’s Babble.com. Find Sullivan on her blogs, Just Write Mom and Some Puppy To Love.