A recent study has found that men’s beards are not exactly clean. In fact, men's facial air contains "significantly higher" amounts of bacteria than found on dogs' fur. The research published in the journal European Radiology compared bacteria samples from the beards of 18 men with bacteria from the fur of 30 dogs.
The Swiss researchers found that "On the basis of these findings, dogs can be considered as 'clean' compared with bearded men." Only twenty-three of the 30 dogs presented high microbial counts, while all 18 men did. Disease-causing bacteria was also found on the beards, including bacteria that cause urinary tract infections.
Researchers also took bacterial samples from the dogs' necks, between the shoulder blades, which veterinarians said is "particularly unhygienic" and where most canine skin infections develop, the study says. The dogs were three months to 13 years old. The men, 18 to 76 years old, gave samples from facial hair below the mouth. Researchers measured the length of each beard "by gently pulling on the beard hair and measuring the length in centimeters with a ruler."
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According to the study, "The beards of men harbor significantly more microbes than the neck fur of dogs and these microbes were significantly more pathogenic to humans." The authors also noted the limitations of the study, including its size. They added that similar research could be done with hair samples from women’s heads, which may carry as much bacteria as men’s beards.
The research was conducted at three radiology departments in Europe and sought to answer a question posed by veterinary clinics: Is it safe for dogs and humans to use the same MRI machine? The study concluded that "Dogs are no risk to humans if they use the same MRI."
As for how bacteria on dogs may affect humans, many diseases tend to be species-specific. For example, dogs can get parvovirus or canine influenza and spread them to other dogs, but not to cats or humans. For that reason, it can, in theory, be safer to kiss a dog than a human. However, there are illnesses that dogs are resistant to, but humans aren’t.
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According to WebMD, humans can get rabies, Lyme disease, and several different types of worms from their dogs. Leptospirosis is of particular concern for young children and people with weakened immune systems, including pregnant women, people undergoing chemotherapy, and people with HIV. Regular vaccinations prevent most dogs from carrying these illnesses.
Also, exposure to some dog germs and allergens can ultimately help people build up their natural immunity. In one study, homes with pets had more than 56 potentially beneficial species of bacteria.