Role of current and childhood exposure to cat and atopic sensitization. European Community Respiratory Health Survey

J Allergy Clin Immunol. 1999 Nov;104(5):941-7. doi: 10.1016/s0091-6749(99)70072-2.


Background: Clinical and population studies have shown that exposure and sensitization to allergens derived from furred pets, particularly cats, represent an important risk factor of allergic respiratory disease and also a significant risk factor for asthma.

Objective: In the framework of the multicenter European Community Respiratory Health Survey an analysis of the association of current and childhood exposure to cat with atopic sensitization to cat was conducted.

Methods: This study included cross-sectional data from 35 centers representing 16 countries. Altogether, 18,097 subjects were included, of whom 13,509 (75%) provided a blood sample for the measurement of specific IgE. Exposure data and data for potential confounders were extracted from an interviewer-led questionnaire.

Results: The prevalence of sensitization to cat (serum specific IgE >0.35 kU/L) was 9%. Among those who did not report allergic symptoms in the presence of pets or house dust, those who owned cats were significantly more likely to be sensitized to cats than were those who did not (odds ratio [95% confidence interval] 1.57 [1.20-2.06]. Childhood exposure to pets including cats was associated with lower sensitization to cats in adulthood, particularly among those with a positive family history of atopy (odds ratio [95% confidence interval] 0.68 [0.51-0.93]. Positive correlations were found between the community prevalence of cat and the prevalences of sensitization to cat, respiratory symptoms, physician-diagnosed asthma, and current asthma medication.

Conclusions: Current cat ownership represents a significant risk for sensitization to cat if cats are allowed indoors. Our results support the hypothesis that childhood exposure to pets, including cats, might modulate immunologic mechanisms and reduce sensitization to cat in adulthood. The significant correlation found between the community prevalence of cat ownership and community prevalence of specific sensitization to cat represents the first documentation of such a relationship.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Allergens*
  • Animals
  • Asthma / diagnosis
  • Asthma / drug therapy
  • Cats / immunology*
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Exposure / statistics & numerical data
  • Europe / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity, Immediate / blood
  • Hypersensitivity, Immediate / epidemiology
  • Hypersensitivity, Immediate / etiology
  • Hypersensitivity, Immediate / immunology*
  • Immunoglobulin E / blood
  • Immunoglobulin E / immunology*
  • Male
  • Physicians
  • Prevalence
  • Respiratory Hypersensitivity / blood
  • Respiratory Hypersensitivity / epidemiology
  • Respiratory Hypersensitivity / immunology
  • Risk Factors


  • Allergens
  • Immunoglobulin E