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Pets in Bed: More Dangerous Than Bedbugs?

Sleeping With Dogs, Cats Linked to Disease, Infections, Parasites

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.

Other Bacterial Infections

Contrary to popular belief, the mouths of dogs and cats are not sterile. There are several bacteria that live in the mouths of carnivorous animals. Humans, particularly those with impaired or immature immune systems, can become infected.

Chomel and Sun describe one case of meningitis linked to a pet dog that often licked a baby's face.

Parasites

Dogs often carry hookworms and roundworms. They can also carry protozoan parasites. These parasites, or their eggs, can sometimes be found on a pet's fur.

What You Should Do

It's relatively rare to get any of these infections from sleeping with a pet. But as Chomel and Sun show, it does happen.

They recommend that pets get regular veterinary examinations and vaccinations.

Because young children are at higher risk than adults, they recommend that small kids and adults with compromised immune systems avoid sleeping with, kissing, or even being licked by pets.

And they recommend that any area licked by a pet should immediately be washed with soap and water, especially if the pet licks an open wound.

"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," Chomel and Sun suggest.

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