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Pets in Bed: More Dangerous Than Bedbugs?

Sleeping With Dogs, Cats Linked to Disease, Infections, Parasites
By
WebMD Pet Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Jan. 14, 2011 -- We're all having nightmares about bedbugs, but your bed pets may be the real danger.

In the U.S, surveys indicate that up to 56% of dog owners and 62% of cat fanciers regularly fall asleep with their pets in their bed. Reports from the U.K., Netherlands, France, and Japan suggest that this isn't a peculiarly American quirk.

But those cuddly pets harbor some icky germs, worms, and cooties, note Bruno B. Chomel, DVM, PhD, of the University of California, Davis, and Ben Sun, DVM, of the California Department of Health.

"Sharing our resting hours with our pets may be a source of psychological comfort, but ... sharing is also associated with risks," they write in the current issue of the CDC journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

It's not just small animals. Chomel and Sun note that a survey recently reported by WebMD showed that 62% of small dogs, 41% of medium-sized dogs, and 32% of large dogs sleep in their humans' beds.

So what do these bed pets bring to our beds?

Bubonic Plague

Humans get bubonic plague from fleas. Chomel and Sun recount various cases of plague linked to sleeping with cats. These include a 9-year-old boy from Arizona who slept with his sick cat.

And a 2008 study of plague survivors found that 44% of them slept with their pet dog, while only 10% of matched comparison subjects slept with their pets. This dog-in-bed plague risk remained significant even after the study authors took into account a large number of other factors.

This last factoid is troubling because dogs -- unlike cats -- can carry plague fleas without showing symptoms of the disease.

Chagas Disease

Chagas disease is a potentially fatal illness caused by a protozoan parasite. It's usually spread by the "kissing bugs" and other blood-sucking bugs.

But one study from Argentina suggests that people who own dogs and cats are at increased risk of the dread disease -- and that infection rates are significantly higher for those who sleep with their pets.

While Chagas disease is uncommon in the U.S., some experts worry that it is working its way northward through Mexico.

Cat-Scratch Disease

As the name implies, cat scratch disease is transmitted by being scratched by cats that harbor fleas infected with disease-causing bacteria. But being licked by a cat can also spread the disease.

In a Connecticut study of risk factors for cat scratch disease, patients were more likely than matched comparison subjects to have been scratched or licked by a kitten -- or to have slept with one.

MRSA

The multidrug-resistant strain of strep known as MRSA rapidly is becoming widespread in the U.S. Humans can carry the bug in their noses -- and so can dogs.

Chomel and Sun recount the case of a couple that kept getting MRSA infections over and over again. Finally, doctors learned that their dog slept in their bed and licked their faces. Tests of the dog were positive for MRSA. And once the dog was rid of the germ, the couple stopped getting MRSA infections.

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