"Shock! If you keep a pet, you will get stomach cancer." That's the headline in Shukan Gendai (Sept 19). A sub-head reads, "That kiss can kill you."
"I'd never realized such a danger existed," a female pet owner is quoted as saying. "At home I'd never let my dog lick my face, and always used separate sponges to clean the dog's dish and the dishes used by people.
"But dogs lick people's hands or feet, and chew on objects in the house. I'd better discuss this with my husband and warn him to be careful."
The woman had been reading an essay by columnist Miho Yamada about the potential dangers of contact with pets. Yamada herself keeps a miniature Pinscher.
Dogs, cats and other mammals, including primates and pigs, are known to harbor Helicobacter heilmannii, a bacteria closely related to H. Pylori generally found in primates, cats, pigs, and carnivorous mammals. While transmissions from animals to people are not extremely common, about 0.5% to 6% of human gastric infections have been attributed to H. heilmannii.
The bacteria is capable of inducing mild chronic gastritis but is also associated with peptic ulceration, and in worst cases may cause cancer.
A special test at the hospital using the Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method, which examines strands of DNA, is the only way to verify such an infection. The general method of treatment is antibiotics.
Risks come from indirect contact with a pet's saliva, such as by using the same eating utensils as one's pet, or allowing the pet to lick one's food. Once in a human host, the bacteria can be spread through kissing or other close contact.
Likewise, cats often regurgitate furballs, which their owners might pick up using a tissue or barehanded. When gloves are used to handle animal droppings they need to be washed with soap or an antiseptic solution.
Recently a group headed by professor Masahiko Nakamura of Kitasato University released findings that suggested H. heilmannii may be the cause of a stomach cancer called mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) lymphoma.
"There are data to indicate people who carry H. heilmannii may be seven times more susceptible to MALT lymphoma than those infected by H. Pylori," said Hokkaido University co-researcher Katsuhiro Mabe. "The tumors they develop are different, but if properly treated to deal with the bacterial infection the prognosis is favorable."
The findings in Japan confirm earlier studies conducted in Germany 20 years ago.
Like other Heliobacter bacteria, the germs can also be transmitted by flies. For people who keep multiple pets, and those living with pets in cramped urban residences such as one-room "mansions," the likelihood of infection is increased.
Nor can children be overlooked.
"Children have yet to fully develop full immunity, and are more susceptible to stomach infections," says Takeo Osugi, professor of Zoology at Rakuno Gakuen University in Hokkaido. In most cases, it is believed that H. pylori infections occur during infancy or childhood. While the route of infection is still unclear, adults have to exercise caution to prevent pets from licking kids' faces or allowing pet saliva to come in contact with their hands.
Should a natural disaster strike, the aforementioned Ms. Yamada warns against taking your pet with you if you are forced to evacuate to temporary shelter, such as a school gymnasium.
"Like what occurred at the time of the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011, you can't take your pet along with you," she warns. "There are people who don't like being around animals. Some are allergic to them.
"If the pet's infected, it can spread to others, creating a huge problem. So you've got to take precautions," she adds.
As much as you may adore your pet, the article concludes, you're well advised to maintain a safe distance.© Japan Today