Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Cockroach Allergens Have Greatest Impact on Childhood Asthma In Many U.S. Cities

Asthma In Inner-City Children - New Study Results Are In
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Dust mites and pet allergens were always thought to be the biggest factors that affect asthma in children, but a new study funded by NIEHS states another factor may actually be worse for inner-city children: COCKROACHES

NIH provided $7.5 million to researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas and seven other research institutions, including the Data Coordinating Center at Rho, Inc., for the three-year study.

"We found that a majority of homes in Chicago, New York City and the Bronx had cockroach allergen levels high enough to trigger asthma symptoms, while a majority of homes in Dallas and Seattle had dust mite allergen levels above the asthma symptom threshold," said Dr. Rebecca Gruchalla, associate professor of internal medicine and pediatrics at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and lead author of the study.

"We also discovered that the levels of both of these allergens were influenced by housing type," noted Gruchalla. "Cockroach allergen levels were highest in high-rise apartments, while dust mite concentrations were greatest in detached homes."

According to NIEHS Director Kenneth Olden, Ph.D. "These data confirm that cockroach allergen is the primary contributor to childhood asthma in inner-city home environments. ...However, general cleaning practices, proven extermination techniques and consistent maintenance methods can bring these allergen levels under control."

Cockroach allergens come from several sources such as saliva, fecal material, secretions, cast skins, and dead bodies. People can reduce their exposure to cockroach allergen by eating only in the kitchen and dining room, putting non-refrigerated items in plastic containers or sealable bags, and taking out the garbage on a daily basis. Other measures include repairing leaky faucets, frequent vacuuming of carpeted areas and damp-mopping of hard floors, and regular cleaning of counter tops and other surfaces.

While cockroach allergen exposure did produce an increase in asthma symptoms, researchers did not find an increase in asthma symptoms as a result of exposure to dust mite and pet dander. "Children who tested positive for, and were exposed to, cockroach allergen experienced a significant increase in the number of days with cough, wheezing and chest tightness, number of nights with interrupted sleep, number of missed school days, and number of times they had to slow down or discontinue their play activity," said Gruchalla.

While cockroaches are primarily attracted to water sources and food debris, house dust mites, microscopic spider-like creatures that feed on flakes of human skin, reside in bedding, carpets, upholstery, draperies and other "dust traps." Dust mite allergens are proteins that come from the digestive tracts of mites and are found in mite feces.

The study results are published in the March issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.