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Pets Prevent Allergies

Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

I meet so many mothers who won’t let their children walk barefoot in the house or the park, won’t let them touch snails, won’t let them grasp mud or go out in the hot rain of the monsoon, won’t let them near any animals and refuse to keep a pet because it might bring in bacteria. Their children wear socks throughout the year, have no idea what a plant is, apart from the cut flowers they see in vases at home.

And they are sicker than most children.

For decades paediatricians warned mothers that if they wanted their children allergy free they should keep animals out of the house.

By the early 2000s, a number of studies showed the opposite - that exposure to pets in the very early stages of life  confers protective benefits and prevents the development of allergic rhinitis, asthma and eczema. Of the nine studies analyzed in 2011, six detected lower levels of IgE antibodies and 15 to 21 percent less eczema in children who had been exposed to cats or dogs as soon they were born.

Allergies have been on the rise since the 20th century. Even in a country where nutrition levels are higher, like the USA, 8-10% of children have asthma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Asthma is a chronic lung disease that inflames and narrows the airways. It causes recurring bouts of wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and coughing. Conventional wisdom says that  reducing allergenic substances at home will help lessen asthma symptoms.

However the Urban Environment and Childhood Asthma (URECA) study, funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), points in the opposite direction :  that exposure to certain allergens and bacteria early in life, before asthma develops, may protect children from asthma. Since 2005, URECA has tracked newborns who are at high risk for developing asthma, because at least one parent has asthma or allergies, for 7 years. Their findings were published in 2017, in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Of the 442 children, 130 (29%) had asthma at age 7. The children who didn’t have it had , strangely enough, higher levels of cockroach, mouse, and cat/dog bacteria in the dust samples, collected from the children’s homes, during the first 3 years of life starting at 3 months.

“Our observations imply that exposure to a broad variety of indoor allergens, bacteria early in life may reduce the risk of developing asthma,” says URECA principal investigator. The microbes that pets carry into the home from outdoors, could mature baby’s developing immune system and train it to fend off assaults from allergens.

Researchers at Kuopio University Hospital in Finland, writing in the journal Pediatrics, say that babies who grow up in homes with a dog or a cat — have a lower risk of allergies than children who live pet-free. Their study found that living with household dust from homes with a dog, prevented infection with a common respiratory virus that is thought to increase the risk of childhood asthma.

The researchers followed 397 children, born in Finland between 2002 -5, and found that babies who grew up in homes with pets were 44% less likely to develop an ear infection and 29% less likely to receive antibiotics, compared with pet-free babies. Overall, babies who lived with a dog were 31% more likely to be healthy in their first year than babies without a dog; kids from homes with cats were 6% more likely to be healthy than those in cat-free families. The study found that children with pets were healthier overall. But this varies: the children who grew up with indoor dogs only, had more infections that than those whose dogs went out every day, suggesting that when animals are allowed to bring in more dirt and microbes from outdoors, it helps strengthen babies’ immune systems faster.

Research at the University of Alberta, published in the journal Microbiome, shows infants exposed to dirt and bacteria from furry family pets, especially dogs, showed much higher levels of two types of gut microbes associated with lower risks of obesity and allergic disease.

746 infants, in the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development Study between 2009-2012,  also showed that those who grew up with dogs had lower rates of asthma and more diverse groups of microbes in their guts. The study also suggests having pets in the house could reduce the chances of a mother passing on a strep infection during birth, which can cause pneumonia in newborns.

Scientists at the University of San Diego Knight Lab, which is doing one of the largest studies on microbes in humans, has found that living with dogs provides the body protective benefit. Nearly a thousand species of microbes live inside the human gut and they play an important role in the health of the human by bolstering the immune system. Each species has a different impact and, without exposure to a diversity of bacteria, the body doesn’t learn how to differentiate between dangerous and harmless bacteria. This theory has emerged after more than a dozen studies showed that children born into families with significant farm animal exposure had fewer instances of asthma and allergies, compared with those that had no exposure to farm animals.

In a 2010 study, done in the University of California, researchers discovered that homes with dogs had a far greater abundance of bacteria than those with no pets. The scientists then researched on whether the dog microbe rich house dust would protect mice against allergens. It did. In 2016, the scientists went ahead to examine the faeces of 308 babies less than a year old. The results, published in Nature Medicine, showed that babies with the highest risk of developing allergies and asthma lacked dog exposure.

In the latest study, scientists from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden looked at another angle: if having more than one pet would increase the benefit.

They looked at data from two previous studies. One of them had tracked 1,029 children from infancy to age 8. 49% children, who had not had pets at home during their first 12 months of life, had allergies. This fell to 43 per cent in children who, as babies, had lived with one pet, and 24 per cent for children who had lived with three pets. Two of the children had lived with five pets – neither of them had allergies.

In another study, tracking 249 children from birth to 9 years of age, the rate of allergies was 48 per cent for children with no pets in their first year, 35 per cent for children with exposure to one pet, and 21 per cent for children who had lived with two or more pets.

This proves that more exposure to pets means more immunity Studies have found that children who grow up on a farm with livestock have a lower risk of allergies.

Can exposure to animals help pregnant  women’s growing babies ? A 2009 study in Europe showed that the umbilical cord blood in pregnant women with farm exposure had more active neonatal immune cells. This means that the microbes in the pregnant mother are doing something positive for the child.

We’ve known for years that dogs were good for our mental health. Now there is clear proof that those health benefits go even deeper. Pets prevent allergies. Exposure to an animal increases the baby’s immunity. The more cats or dogs you live with as an infant, the less your chances of getting asthma, hay fever and eczema, to name a few diseases. 

To join the animal welfare movement contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , www.peopleforanimalsindia.org

  • Written by Denis Giles
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Superbug Outbreaks: We Need an Intelligent Far Sighted Humane Government

Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Candida auris is a dangerous fungal infection that emerged in 2009 in Japan and, in just a few years, has spread round the world, especially in hospitals. It is a superbug: a germ that has evolved defences against common medicines and cannot be treated by the fungal medications now available. These include antifungals such as fluconazole, the standard antifungal drug in many countries, and echinocandins.

Once the germ is present, it is hard to eradicate it from a facility. Some hospitals have had to bring in special cleaning equipment, and even rip out floor and ceiling tiles, to get rid of it.

It is a life threatening fungus with a high death rate. It has been identified in Japan, South Korea, India, Pakistan, South Africa, Kenya, Kuwait, Israel, Venezuela, Colombia, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States. Other countries have it, but probably cannot identify the fungi because the specialized laboratory methods needed to do so are not available.

People with weakened immune systems are the most vulnerable - newborns, the elderly, people who are sick with other infections, diabetics, people who have undergone broad-spectrum antibiotic or antifungal therapy. The rise of C. auris has been little publicized because it is relatively new. Outbreaks have been played down, or kept confidential, by hospitals even governments, as publicizing an outbreak would scare people into not going to hospitals. In America, even the Centre for Disease Control is not allowed to make public the location, or name of hospitals involved in outbreaks.

The symptoms of C. auris — fever, aches, fatigue — are not unusual, so it is hard to recognize the infection without testing. The next step is blood poisoning / sepsis, coma, organ failure and death. The fungus can colonize on human skin, or surfaces, and live for a long period of time, allowing it to spread to new patients.

One reason is the indiscriminate doling out of antifungals by the medical community. But even more harmful is the use of antifungals in modern agriculture/animal husbandry.

It is clear that Candida auris’s resistance can be traced to industrial agriculture’s mass application of fungicides which are similar in molecular structure to human antifungal drugs.

Wheat, banana, barley, apple, potatoes, soya bean, grapes, corn, stone fruit, are some of the varied crops that fungicides are used on.

Before 2007 six main classes of fungicides were rarely used. Azoles, morpholines, benzimidazoles, strobilurins, succinate dehydrogenase inhibitors and anilinopyrimidines. Now they are common – with azoles leading the pack. Azoles, used in both crop protection and medicine, are broad-spectrum fungicides, annihilating a wide range of fungi.

It cannot be a coincidence that Candida auris has developed resistance to the azole antifungals, including fluconazole, amphotericin B, and echinocandins.

C. auris has probably been fought off for centuries by the human system. It is only now that it has become immune to human intervention, and can enter the bloodstream.

In an effort to identify the source of the infection, an international team collected fungal germs from hospitals across Pakistan, India, South Africa, and Venezuela in 2012–2015.

They found azole resistance in all – but the strains were varied and related to the fungicide that was used in that country. In response to wide exposure to fungicides in the field, each strain evolved its own unique solution to the problem. This fungus spread and diversified, because patients and crops, through agricultural trade, migrate.

In 2015, scientists discovered that the Candida auris genome had several genes of a superfamily (MFS). MFS effectively destroys broad classes of drugs. It permits C. auris to survive an onslaught of antifungal drugs. They also found that the C. auris genome also had many genes that increased its virulence.

Candida auris is not the only fungus on the cusp of multidrug resistance. There are many more which plants and humans are becoming resistant to.

One fungus, Aspergillus fumigatus causes infection in the lungs and is a major cause of mortality. Azole antifungals, itraconazole, voriconazole, and posaconazole, have long been used to treat pulmonary asperillogosis. In the last decade it has developed a resistance to these drugs, causing the death of lakhs of people each year.

Studies comparing long-term azole users and patients just beginning to take the drug have shown that drug-resistant A. fumigatus was prevalent in both groups, suggesting that resistance came from the food they ate and the antifungals used in fields, rather than in the medicine they took. Agricultural, rather than medical reasons.

In many field studies scientists have found fungicide resistant A. fumigatus in the soil /crops across the world. In simple terms, due to agricultural practices, Aspergillus is entering hospitals already adapted to the slew of antifungal cocktails designed to check its spread. By using azoles to control fungi on fruit and grain, conditions have been created to accelerate drug resistance in human patients.

Aspergillusfumigatus and Candida auris share similar geographical distributions.

One would have thought that both these funguses would have been enough for governments to realize the acute danger its people were in and to phase out all fungicide.

But, instead, government policy has actively promoted the expansion of fungicide use.

Agricultural azole fungicides comprise a third of the total fungicide market. Twenty-five different forms of agricultural azole fungicides are being used in millions of tonnes, compared to just three forms of medical azoles. Fungicides use to control soyabean rust have quadrupled between 2002 to 2006. 30% of corn and wheat had fungicides applied in 2009 and now it is more than 50%. Boscalid fungicide is now commonly used in fruit and vegetables. 33 different fungicides are used on potatoes.

Global sales have tripled since 2005, from $8 billion to $21 billion in 2017, expanding not only in sales but also in geographic distribution.

And, of course, all the fungicide leaches into the water, and you drink it.

Climate change brings heavy unseasonal rains and drought and higher temperatures. This means more funguses. And more fungicides. Unless the government finds a better organic way now.

Instead of blaming hospitals and hospital workers for contamination, we should be looking at agricultural bans of antibiotics and fungicides. Various Indian agriculture ministers, and prime ministers, have promised in Parliament to do so – but have done the exact opposite. As time goes on companies will propose more genetically modified crops to, supposedly, combat funguses, and these will prove to be as deadly as GM Cotton and require even more deadly fungicides in time. As I see it, large chemical companies run governments and the world. And you and I are the victims.

There is so much empirical evidence that simply rotating crops and putting different crops together, like soya bean and flax, can greatly remove funguses. In California, strawberry producers have found that planting broccoli, between rotations of strawberry crops, removes fungus.

Scientists have discovered that instead of azole fungicides to control blight in potatoes, silica works much better.

Organic farming supports good fungi, which crowd out pathogenic fungi. Reducing chemical fertilizers and limiting tillage creates beneficial strains of fungi that form beneficial relationships with plant roots .Crop rotations, the incorporation of legumes, and the cultivation of soil aggregates, instead of burning, create good conditions for soil microbiota.

Leaving small wild areas also removes fungal depredation. For instance, a study done by University of Michigan and Vandemeer, on agroecological fungal control in coffee, found Mycodiplosis fly larvae, from nearby wild areas, feed on the coffee rust in Mexico and Puerto Rico.

What we are doing to our farmers is giving them absolutely the wrong information and tools – of which fungicides are one. Monocultures need fungicides and both cause disease. Agribusiness, and their governments, views nature as their enemy. So wiping out local ecologies and the benefits these offer in helping farmers enrich their soils, clean their water, pollinate their plants, feed their livestock, and control pests—pathogenic fungi among them—means the largest companies can now sell their poisons to a captive market. There must be some reason that our Indian governments refuse to train agricultural scientists, and are happy to have totally ignorant people working in Krishi Vigyan Kendras. Could it be a business plan? Financed not just by pesticide companies but by hospitals and the medical industry? Is there any difference between the rich and poor if both don’t have food safety?

Long before climate change finally does us in, it is catastrophic superbug outbreaks that are now killing millions. While data is available, it is rarely taken seriously by politicians. In the US alone 2 million illnesses and thousands of deaths are caused by drug resistant infections. In India it would be at least a crore, because we indiscriminately use medicines on animals grown for food and on crops. We need an intelligent far sighted humane government. 

To join the animal welfare movement contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , www.peopleforanimalsindia.org

  • Written by Denis Giles
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Just as I Needed Mine

Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

When we were young, we spent two months every year with my mother’s parents on a huge farm in a village near Bhopal. We slept in mosquito netted beds in the garden, we shelled peas and roasted green channas, we played pittoo and all sorts of indoor games with shells and seeds. We were fed relentlessly. Did I ever sit down and ask my grandmother things about herself ? Not that I remember. I called her Dujama and learnt her name twenty years later ! I was far too much in awe of my grandfather to even talk to him.

My granddaughter is shy. Once she loosens up she tells me all about her world. But she, like me as a child, has expressed no interest in who I am or what I am interested in. I am her Dadi and that is enough for her. Will my granddaughter remember me when I am gone ? She is small now but I shall to try to pass on as much as I know to her – about my family and the world around us and perhaps how to survive it.

Are we the only grandparents / Do any animals know their grandparents the way humans do ? For most species the answer is no. Insects spread out immediately and the ones that are in community housing – like ants and bees - are brought up communally in nurseries by feeders and caretakers. In 2010, researchers reported, in Current Biology, that in gall-forming aphid colonies, older females defend their relatives after they've ceased to reproduce.  

Most birds do not recognize their family members after their first year. There are exceptions to this, especially among social birds such as cranes, crows, and jays. A 2007 study, in the journal Evolution, found that older female Seychelles warblers help their offspring raise chicks. Canada Geese also remember their parents, and may even rejoin their parents and siblings during winter and on migration. There is cooperative breeding and care in about 200 species of birds. But that doesn’t necessarily include grandmothers.

In some cases, the life of the wild mammal is so short that the grandparents are dead before the grandchild is of an age to know them. In some cases, the children spread out so that they don’t compete for resources – male tigers for instance – so the chances of running into a grandparent are slim. In many species, the mother and grandmother fight each other for resources, if they're in the same area.

But there are so many that live in sociable close knit groups. Humans, whales and dolphins have evolved to live well beyond child-bearing age, because this helps raise the survival chances of their descendants, argues a new theory of ageing in social animals. Dr Ronald Lee of the University of California, in the journal Proceedings in the National Academy of Sciences, says "In some species, post-reproductive females make substantial contributions to their descendants, either through direct parental care or through grandparental care. Post-reproductive bottlenose dolphins and pilot whales babysit, guard, and even breastfeed their grandchildren" .

Many whale species travel in family pods that include both grandmothers and grandcalves. Orcas and short-finned pilot whales, belugas and narwhals, go through menopause. Once they stop reproducing, grandmothers stop competing with their daughters for mating opportunities. That enables them to live in and play an important role in social pods where all the male and female offspring stay together. Studies show that adult orca sons are more likely to survive with their mothers around. Orca grandmothers often lead their pods and can live for decades after they stop reproducing. Scientists, writing in Current Biology, say that the elders are important because they help the pod survive by remembering the best places to find food and share fish with their grand-calves. In groups of sperm whales old females help babysit the group's young while their mothers dive for food.

Great apes appear to be aware of their grandchildren, and have even been known to foster grandchildren if the parent is dead or ineffective (just like humans).

Rhesuses and Langurs live with their daughters and grandchildren in loving relationships and the grandmother is the boss. The grandmothers are in charge of defending the group's children against assaults from humans, dogs and other monkeys. Within the group, grandmothers give their own grandchildren special treatment, grooming them and disciplining them if they step out of line.

Elephants often live in large families made up of babies, juveniles, and mothers. Elephant herds are usually led by the grandmothers who collaborate with their daughters to raise the young. In a study, in Scientific Reports, scientists found that the calves of young mothers were eight times more likely to survive if their grandmothers lived near them than if they didn't. The experienced matriarch was more likely to offer solutions in life threatening situations than the inexperienced mother. Grandmothers led the family to the right places to forage or drink, or when interacting with other elephant families. According to a study done of 834 individual elephants in Kenya's Amboseli National Park over a period of 40 years, researchers say "The new and exciting part of our study is the strong effect females have on the reproduction of daughters and granddaughters in their family. Daughters of long-lived mothers lived longer themselves and had higher reproductive rates." 

Feral cat colonies, according to cat behaviour experts at the University of Bristol, are "based around multigenerational cooperation between females—grandmother, her daughters, and their kittens." Male cats are not involved in raising young.

Do dog grandparents acknowledge their granddaughters/sons, or do they just treat them as random dogs? It depends on the "bonding" period they have when they are born. If they get a few months together they will recognize each other. If the grandparents of the pups are around, when they are puppies, they might possible be able to recognize them if given this same bonding opportunity. Although adult dogs can recognize close relatives, that ability depends on what happened to the dog as a puppy.

Their genetic ancestors, the wolves, still move in family packs in which the parents hold the highest status and are the pack leaders. A family of wolves can be large and extended, including aunts and uncles, siblings, grandparents, and even adoptees. The basic form of a wolf pack consists of a bonded pair, known as the breeding pair or alphas. These are the leaders of the family and their bond can last a lifetime. The alpha pair are nearly always the parents or grandparents of the other pack members, until they become too old to continue as leaders, in which case, if they have been benign leaders, their descendants will look after them. If they were bullies as alphas they will be driven out.

According to Lee’s theory of ageing, If a species makes no post-birth investment in raising its offspring, then the species depends entirely on  fertility, not on a long life. Eg. butterflies lay many eggs, then die. But in species where parents have few offspring and invest time and energy into promoting their children's survival, natural selection would logically favour a longer lifespan. So, if grandparents help their children succeed as parents this will favour living even longer. Anthropologists have found clear evidence that older women have a beneficial effect on grandchildren in traditional societies.

My granddaughter needs me and her Nani. Just as I needed mine. 

To join the animal welfare movement contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , www.peopleforanimalsindia.org

  • Written by Denis Giles
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