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The Cockroach-Asthma Connection

Research points to a link between exposure to cockroaches and mice and respiratory diseases in young children.

Asthma, the leading cause of chronic illness in children, affects about 10 to 12 percent of American kids, many of them hailing from low-income or inner-city neighborhoods.

Researchers at the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health (CCCEH) at Columbia University have discovered that developing antibodies to cockroach and mouse proteins is associated with a greater risk for wheeze, hay fever and eczema in urban children as young as 3. The researchers also suggest that interventions directed towards cockroach and mouse allergen reduction may have long-term benefits for inner-city kids who are especially susceptible to these exposures.

The study was published in the November 2008 issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology and is the first to concentrate on the connections between antibody responses to cockroach and mouse proteins and the respiratory and allergic symptoms seen in such a young age group.

"These findings increase our understanding of the relationship between immune responses to indoor allergens and the development of asthma and allergies in very young children," said lead author of the study, Kathleen Donohue, a fellow in allergy and immunology at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, in a release.

This study is part of a broader multi-year research project launched in 1998 by CCCEH that examines how indoor and outdoor air pollutants, pesticides and allergens impact the health of pregnant women and infants. Previous research has demonstrated that exposure to multiple environmental pollutants is likely to increase the risk of children developing asthma symptoms.

"Our findings have significant public health implications," said Rachel L. Miller, Irving assistant professor of Medicine and Environmental Health at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center and senior investigator on the study. "These are valuable findings given the high prevalence of asthma in New York City and elsewhere. They highlight the importance of reducing exposure to cockroach and mouse allergens at a very early age for susceptible children."