But now, thanks to a study by a Japanese university, we may want to re-think that last one a bit. According to their research, contact with pets’ bodily fluids, either by kitty kisses or scooping up puppy poops, can significantly increase your risk of stomach cancer.
The September 19 volume of Shukan Gendai (Modern Weekly) reported on Japan’s Helicobacter Conference held in June earlier this year. The conference gets its name from helicobacter heilmannii, a type of bacteria that can cause stomach cancer, and the research was overseen by Kitasato University’s Pharmaceutical Professor Masahiko Nakamura and his team.
What did they discover through their research? Basically the worst thing imaginable: loving your pets or any other animal can cause you to get stomach cancer.
The reason for this is because of the aforementioned bacteria helicobacter heilmannii, known to cause cancerous MALT lymphoma. This infectious bacteria can be found in the body fluids of animals, especially pets, and can be transferred via saliva, waste fluids, solids, or even from just prolonged nearby exposure in a closed area.
According to Nakamura’s research, 60 percent of all patients suffering from MALT lymphoma tested positive for helicobacter heilmanni bacteria, supporting the strong correlation between the two. Previous research from Germany also showed that 70 percent of those who had the bacteria were in close physical contact with animals, and this lines up with Nakamura’s conclusion that the biggest risk factor in contracting the bacteria is being around animals.
Especially risky activities include:
- Being licked/kissed by an animal
- Kissing an animal near its mouth
- Using a food utensil that an animal has used
- Disposing of animal waste without gloves
- Kissing someone already infected with the bacteria
Potentially risky activities go beyond just the above. Something as simple as picking up a cat’s hairball with only a thin tissue, not properly disinfecting your hands after cleaning up waste, or even not cleaning up pet saliva from furniture can also spread the bacteria.
What’s worse, even just being nearby infected animal waste can pose a risk. Flies tend to gather around animal waste, and if they absorb the bacteria then land on food that you eat, you could become infected too.
According to the article, those most at risk for infection are children, due to their underdeveloped immune systems and tendency to put things in their mouth that they shouldn’t. Sure, it may look cute when someone’s pet dog is licking a baby, but nothing destroys a cute scene more horribly than the mention of cancer.
Right now it’s still fairly difficult to test animals for helicobacter heilmannii, the only way being through a polymerase chain reaction DNA test. So if you have pets, the best thing to do in order to minimize risk of infection is to continue to love them, but perhaps just not as intimately as you might like.
Columnist Mihoko Yamada had these personal anecdotes to add after her life was turned upside down by this information:
“Our dog licks people’s feet, hands, and other things in the house, no matter how many times we tell him to stop. He even licks my husband’s face. I’ll have to tell him to be more careful from now on.
“During the 3/11 great earthquake and tsunami, pets weren’t allowed into evacuation centers due to those with allergies. I thought that was a little excessive, but now that I know the pets could potentially infect other people, it’s a completely different story.”
Are you going to stop your animal-licking ways? Or will you take your chances to get that puppy love you crave? Either way, please do your best to stay safe and healthy!