A new study by Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health that finds that higher exposure to cockroach dust may explain why some New York City children have asthma while others, who grow up just blocks away, do not.
The researchers collected dust — containing cockroach, mouse and cat allergens — from the upper half of the beds of 239 children, 7 or 8 years old, all from middle-income families in households widely scattered across the city, though not in the most affluent areas.
They found that children in high-asthma neighborhoods were more likely to have been exposed to cockroaches than those in low-asthma neighborhoods, and twice as likely to be allergic to them (23.7 percent vs. 10.8 percent).
Other studies have shown a link between cockroach exposure and asthma. But the Columbia study, published online in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, is the first to show that children in high-asthma neighborhoods have been more exposed to cockroaches than those in adjacent low-asthma neighborhoods.
The study may help explain why the prevalence of asthma among children entering school varies greatly by neighborhood, from 3 percent in Flushing, Queens, to almost 19 percent, in East Harlem. Levels of mouse and cat allergens were also higher in the homes of high-asthma neighborhoods, but did not seem to have the same effect.
Dr. Perzanowski, the senior author of the article in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, said this could be because children were exposed to mice in other places besides the home, like schools and subways. For cats, he said, “I think the jury is still out,” but there is some evidence that exposure to cats could actually protect people from developing asthma.
Good housekeeping could help combat asthma, though it is of course harder to control cockroaches if your neighbors are not cooperating. Use the obvious antidotes: vacuuming, sealing up cracks, not leaving food out, and washing the bed sheets in hot water.
Article written by: Anemona Hartocollis