U.S. Asthma Rate Doubles

by Alison Fitzgerald, AP Writer
Copyright 1998 The Associated Press
February 26, 1998

BOSTON (AP) -- The number of Americans with asthma has more than doubled since 1980, federal researchers say, and blacks are more than twice as likely than whites to die from the disorder.

New figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were released Wednesday as public health officials met in Boston to discuss ways to control asthma among minorities hit hardest.

The data compiled by Dr. Stephen Redd at the CDC in Atlanta show that about 13.7 million people had asthma in 1994, the most recent year for which data is available. In 1980, that figure was 6.8 million.

Today, an estimated 15 million people suffer from asthma, a chronic lung inflammation that makes it hard for patients to breathe.

"The numbers were not unexpected, but they are disappointing," said Dr. Christopher Fanta, an asthma specialist at Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston. "We knew about this problem from previous reports. But despite that awareness, despite the efforts, the statistics suggest the burden of asthma continues to grow."

The data also showed that blacks were more than twice as likely to die from an asthma attack than whites. In 1994, 38.5 people out of every million black Americans died from asthma, compared with 15.1 of every million whites.

The doctors at the Boston conference, which was sponsored by the Latino Health Project, said the high asthma rate among minorities has more to do with socioeconomic status than with race.

Asthma attacks are often triggered by allergens such as dust, mold, and cockroaches and can become more severe when the disease is not managed with medication. The combination of poor housing and lack of access to medical care means low-income people are at higher risk for severe asthma attacks.

"If your housing has cockroaches, rain dripping through the ceiling, dust in the carpet and there's no vacuum, you're going to have more problems," Fanta said.

Dr. Howard Koh, the Massachusetts Commissioner of Public Health said such simple moves as helping residents buy mattress covers that block allergens could save lives and lower medical costs.

"There are about 5,000 asthma deaths a year" Koh said. "That's 5,000 preventable deaths."

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