Parents with newborn babies who own a cat may be putting their children at risk of developing eczema, according to a study.
The combination of cat exposure and an inherited defective gene can increase an infant's chances of suffering the skin allergy, scientists found.
Eczema runs in families and is linked to functional faults in the gene that produces filaggrin (FLG), a protective protein in the skin. However, environmental factors are said to be important too.
Researchers compared a high-risk group of 379 Danish infants carrying the gene variants with a group of 593 babies from the general population in Manchester.
In both groups, children with FLG mutations were twice as likely to develop eczema during their first year of life as those without the genetic faults.
Cat ownership at birth made no difference to children without FLG mutations. But for those with the mutations, having a cat further increased the risk of developing eczema.
The findings, published in the journal PLoS Medicine, suggest that filaggrin deficiency weakens the skin's protective barrier and makes a child more vulnerable to cat exposure.
But how cat exposure is linked to the development of eczema remains a puzzle, said the researchers.
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