Background: The query "are there animals at home?" is usually administered for collecting information on anamnesis. This modality to consider exposure to pet allergens constitutes a potential bias in epidemiological studies and in clinical practice. The aim of our study was to evaluate/quantify different modalities of exposure to cat/dog in inducing allergic sensitization. Methods: Thirty Italian Allergy units participated in this study. Each centre was required to collect the data of at least 20 consecutive outpatients sensitized to cat/dog allergens. A standardized form reported all demographic data and a particular attention was paid in relieving possible modalities of exposure to cat/dog. Results: A total 723 patients sensitized to cat/dog were recorded, 359 (49.65%) reported direct pet contact, 213 patients (29.46%) were pet owners, and 146 subjects (20.19%) were exposed to pets in other settings. Other patients were sensitized by previous pet ownership (150-20.75%) or indirect contact (103-14.25%), in 111 subjects (15.35%) any contact was reported. Conclusions: Only 213 patients (29.46%) would be classified as "exposed to animals" and 510 (70.54%) as "not exposed" according to usual query. Our classification has shown that many "not-exposed" subjects (399-55.19%) were "really exposed". The magnitude of exposure to pet allergens at home is not related exclusively to pet ownership. These considerations should be taken into account during the planning of epidemiological studies and in clinical practice for the management of pet allergic individuals.
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