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Dr. Sanjay Gupta: Dogs may protect kids from allergies

CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta
CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta

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(CNN) -- In a study presented at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology conference this week, researchers found that having a dog around during a baby's first year of life is associated with a reduction in allergies.

CNN anchor Bill Hemmer talked with medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta about the findings.

GUPTA: This is a story that hits close to home for a lot of people. About 40 million to 50 million people have allergies to something in this country, and about 43 million people own dogs. Well, it turns out the two are actually related in some way.

There was a study done of 286 children, newborns actually, to find out whether or not exposure to a dog actually protects them against allergies later in life, and, in fact, that's exactly what the study found. Thirty-three percent had allergies later on without the dog as a newborn; that's compared to 19 percent who had allergies if they had a dog -- a pretty significant protective effect by having a dog.

Now, researchers tried to figure out why this might be, and they deduced that perhaps when a newborn is exposed to a dog, it actually revs up some of the good parts of the immune system, those same sorts of cells that might actually help ward off allergies later in life.

That's their theory at least. A little more research needs to be done. And again, this was just that one year of life.

This isn't the first study that actually proved this. There have been other studies in the past that have looked at the protective effect of animals in the household against allergies, but this is a pretty significant one.

Also, it's important to remember that allergies are believed to be inherited. If both of your parents have allergies, there's a 50 percent chance that the offspring will have an allergy, and if one parent has allergies, then a 25 percent chance.

HEMMER: Makes sense. Long hair, short hair -- does it matter on the dog? Some people argue that point.

GUPTA: Yes, this was just dog or no dog, but they did conclude that further studies need to be done to find out if there is a particular type of dog that has the most protective effect.

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