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Sleeping with pets exposes owners to nasty diseases, paper says

January 25, 2011|By Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times
(Los Angeles Times )

Think twice about cuddling your furry friends in bed; otherwise, you could be exposed to a nasty disease. That’s the recommendation from a paper being published in next month's issue of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Pet ownership appears to have been on the rise in the U.S. over the last few decades, surveys show. Of an estimated 60 million pet dogs in the U.S., according to this study, an estimated 21% to 33% sleep on or in their owners' beds – and of 75 million cats, 60% curl up with their owners.

Does this mean people are increasingly exposed to animal-borne diseases? Bruno Chomel of UC Davis and Ben Sun of the California Department of Public Health decided to find out. They surveyed the scientific literature and found examples of owners who contracted rare, unpleasant illnesses after kissing, sleeping in the same bed with, or being licked by their pets.

Among them: chagas disease, staphylococcus infections, parasites, meningitis and even bubonic plague. Yes, that bubonic plague.

That said, a good number of the cases they survey are from several decades ago; the seven-victim plague outbreak in New Mexico happened in 1974. An example of a meningitis infection they cite comes from 1985.

Nonetheless, the authors write: “Our review suggests that persons, especially young children or immunocompromised persons, should be discouraged from sharing their bed with their pets or regularly kissing their pets.” Especially if they’re not an indoors kind of creature.

Think this paper is an overreaction, or raising a good point? Post your thoughts below.

Follow me on Twitter @LAT_aminakhan.

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