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Worst Cities, Worst Bugs for Asthma

Cockroaches Are Big Contributors to Asthma, Especially in the Northeast, Says Study
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WebMD Health News

Mar. 8, 2005 -- Worried about kids' asthma risk? You might want to take a look at your address -- and call an exterminator.

Your home -- and bugs lurking there -- can affect children's chances of developing asthma, says a new study. What's more, those factors vary between cities and building types.

Cockroaches are the peskiest pests for kids with asthma, says the study. Keeping your home clean can help, no matter where you live.

"These data confirm that cockroach allergen is the primary contributor to childhood asthma in inner-city home environments," says Kenneth Olden, PhD, in a news release. Olden directs the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).

"General cleaning practices, proven extermination techniques, and consistent maintenance methods can bring these allergens under control," says Olden.

Insects aren't the only risk factor for asthma, which is rising in Western countries. Cigarette smoke and allergens from pets and mold are also asthma hazards. Having a parent with a history of allergy or asthma also raises a child's risk of getting asthma.

Battle of the Bugs

The study included a showdown between cockroaches and dust mites. Which bug triggered more trouble for kids with asthma?

Cockroaches won that competition. They prompted more allergies than dust mites or pets among more than 900 school kids aged 5-11 with moderate to severe asthma.

The kids all lived in inner-city neighborhoods in the Bronx (a borough of New York), Boston, New York, Chicago, Dallas, Seattle, and Tucson. They took allergy tests and had their homes inspected by the researchers.

Kids who were allergic and exposed to cockroaches missed more school, had asthma symptoms on more days, and had more unscheduled medical appointments for asthma. Their risk of hospitalization during the two-year study was also 45% higher.

According to the NIEHS, people can take the following steps to help reduce the risk of their exposure to cockroach allergen:

  • Eat only in the kitchen and dining room.
  • Put non-refrigerated items in plastic containers or sealable bags.
  • Take out the garbage on a daily basis.
  • Repair leaky faucets since water sources attract roaches.
  • Vacuum frequently to decrease allergens.
  • Regularly clean countertops and other surfaces that might have food debris and attract bugs.

 

Worst Cities for Roaches, Dust Mites

Northeastern cities fared worst with cockroaches, while dust mites were a bigger problem in the South and Northwest, says the study.

Here's how the cities ranked for the percentage of participants allergic to roaches:

The Bronx (a borough of New York): 81%
New York: 78.5%
Dallas: 78.5%
Chicago: 69.5%
Boston: 67.2%
Tucson: 58.6%
Seattle: 44.4%

The list changed for dust mites:

Dallas: 83.7%
Seattle: 78%
The Bronx (a borough of New York): 60.2%
Tucson: 59.3%
Boston: 58.8%
New York: 55.3%
Chicago: 39%

Home Sweet Home ... for Asthma?

High-rise buildings were a haven for roaches, while single-family homes tended to have more dust mites. The Bronx (a borough of New York), New York, and Boston had far more high-rise homes than the other cities, while Seattle and Tucson had no high-rises in the study.

The study was conducted by researchers including Rebecca Gruchalla, MD, PhD, of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. It appears in the March issue of The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

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