Colleges study asthma, roaches to find links

March 7th, 2011

Colleges study asthma, roaches to find links

NEW ORLEANS — Researchers from Tulane and North Carolina State universities are gearing up to study whether exterminating roaches can alleviate asthma symptoms in children who live in public housing.

Pest control programs have helped improve asthma problems, but this study will look at what affect specifically targeting roaches will have on the children, said Felicia Rabito, an associate professor of epidemiology in Tulane’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development gave Rabito and NCSU entomologist Coby Schal $942,000 for the study as part of $2 million in grants to improve the indoor environment for asthmatic children and others in public housing and apartments that get public assistance.

Asthma affected an estimated 24.6 million Americans in 2009, 7.1 million of them under the age of 18 – and the poor are particularly hard-hit, according to a January report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Roaches have long been known to cause strong allergic reactions and trigger asthma. Pest-control programs used in earlier studies that would help reduce asthma illnesses have cost $750 to $1,000, which would be beyond an inner city family’s budget, Rabito said. So she partnered with NCSU, which has been testing a program for North Carolina schools that targets just roaches.

Numerous studies have found that inner-city children tend to have worse and more frequent asthma attacks than other children.

The yearlong study will look at 100 children who have moderate to severe asthma, are allergic to cockroaches and live in homes where researchers trap at least 30 roaches in three days. In 50 of the roach-infested homes, teams will set out roach baits and use low-toxicity insecticide.

In 50 other homes with roach problems, the researchers will not use any pest control.

Researchers will call every two months to check on children’s asthma symptoms and whether they’ve had to visit the emergency room or be hospitalized. They will also return to look for roaches and vacuum dust samples from the living room, the child’s bedroom and the kitchen to test them for allergens.

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