Pets and vermin are associated with high endotoxin levels in house dust


Joachim Heinrich, GSF-Institute of Epidemiology, POB 1129, D-85758 Neuherberg, Germany. E-mail: Joachim.Heinrich@gsf.de1Inga-Study Group: GSF – National Research Center for Environment and Health, Neuherberg, Institute of Epidemiology (H. E. Wichmann, J. Heinrich, P. Schneider, J. Cyrys, I. Groß, G. Wölke, G. Silbernagl, U. Gehring, B. Jacob, A. Houzer), Institute of Ecological Chemistry (I. Gebefügi, G. Lörinci, J. Schnelle). Friedrich-Schiller University, Jena – Institute of Occuptional, Social and Environmental Medicine (W. Bischof, A. Koch, J. Witthauer, K. J. Heilemann), Institute of Clinical Immunology ( L. Jäger, B. Fahlbusch, G. Schlenvoigt). Großhansdorf Hospital, Hamburg – Center for Pneumology and Thoracic Surgery (H. Magnussen, K. Richter, R. Jörres). Utrecht University – Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences (IRAS) (B. Brunekreef, J. Douwes, G. Doekes).


Background Previous studies have shown that the risk for allergic sensitization is lower in children who grew up on farms and in young adults who were exposed to dogs in early childhood. A higher microbial exposure in general and in particular to endotoxin in early childhood might contribute to this lower risk of atopy.

Objective We examined whether the presence of pets or vermin in the home is associated with higher endotoxin concentrations in settled house dust.

Methods House dust was sampled in a standardized manner on the living room floors of 454 homes of German children aged 5–10 years (participation rate 61%). Endotoxin was assessed with a quantitative kinetic chromogenic Limulus Amebocyte Lysate (LAL) method. Associations between endotoxin levels, pets and vermin are presented as ratios of the crude and confounder adjusted geometric means (means ratios) in the category of study vs. a reference category using multiple linear regression models.

Results Endotoxin concentrations in living room floor dust sampled in homes without pets and vermin were lower (1246 ng per square meter, 1519 ng endotoxin/g dust, n = 157) than those sampled in homes with pets or vermin (2267 ng per square meter, 2200 ng endotoxin/g dust, n = 296). After adjustment for city of residence, season of dust sampling, age of the building and story of the dwelling, means ratios for endotoxin expressed per gram of dust were statistically significantly increased for dog (1.64, 95% CI 1.09–2.46), for cat (1.50, 95% CI 1.03–2.18) and for cockroach (3.01, 95% CI 1.37–6.60), whereas no major statistically significant associations were found for other pets, ants and mice.

Conclusion Keeping a dog or a cat in the home is consistent with higher exposure to endotoxin and might therefore contribute to the lower risk of atopy in later life.