Rate more than double
February 22, 2002
People who keep birds as pets are more than twice as likely to develop multiple sclerosis than those who do not, probably because the diseases birds carry weaken their owners' immune systems and trigger MS, according to a Université de Montréal epidemiologist.
Cat owners, on the other hand, have far less chance of developing the neurological disease, likely because they tend to take better care of their own health.
In his survey of the lifestyle habits of 200 Montrealers who suffer from MS, Dr. Parviz Ghadirian showed that the presence of a bird in the house increased the risk of contracting the disease by 2 1/2 times. This effect was particularly pronounced in women.
Dr. Ghadirian, director of epidemiological research at the Université de Montréal hospital, speculated the gender difference could be because women are more likely to clean birdcages and be in close contact with the birds.
"This is my interpretation," he said. "We're just guessing."
Women generally have higher rates of MS than men. It is normally diagnosed when victims are in their early twenties.
MS is particularly prevalent in people with a history of viral infection, especially rubella or mumps, Dr. Ghadirian said. It is reasonable, then, to think that infections from the birds could trigger the disease, whose causes are still poorly understood, he said.
In his study, published in the Canadian
Journal of Public Health, Dr. Ghadirian suggests the effect of cats on
MS rates is another instance of the positive, psychosomatic effects that
mammalian house pets have on people's health. For example, he said, a pet's
companionship can help with hypertension, and other lifestyle factors such
as diet and exercise can be improved by taking care of an animal, he said.
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