Asthma is on the increase in developed countries. In urban areas, up to one in four children may be affected. A team of researchers from Boston and six other urban areas reported that pest allergens are an important factor in the development of asthma in inner city populations. Cockroaches and rodents are the primary focus of their recent paper.
Research studies have linked a variety of indoor allergens to asthma. Studies of dust collected from children's bedrooms in various cities show detectable levels of cockroach allergens in 85 to 98 percent of homes, and high levels in more than half. Mouse and rat allergens were found in 33 to 95 percent of the homes tested around the country.
Risk factors for cockroach and rodent allergens in the home include:
1. Low income
2. Low level of education
3. African American ethnicity
4. Hispanic ethnicity
5. High population density, as in multifamily homes and high-rise apartment buildings
6. Older cities with aged and deteriorating systems for water, sewer, gas, electrical, and transportation
7. Deterioration of the physical condition of homes, including water damage, cracks or holes in ceilings or wall, and uneven settling of foundations
8. Nearby vacant lots where pests can breed
Pesticides can also produce illness, so it is important to use caution in the methods of pest allergen abatement. In recent studies, 15 percent of the inhabitants of New York City public housing reported using illegal pesticides, and these have been associated with higher prevalence of allergic diseases, chronic bronchitis, and decreased lung function. Integrated pest management methods include:
1. Thorough cleaning
2. Education on allergen removal
3. Use of air filters, including high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters
4. Bait stations
5. Professional extermination
6. Sealing of cracks and holes in the foundation and infrastructure
In recent years, several researchers have demonstrated that environmental interventions can produce significant medical improvements in childhood asthma. Wheezing, sleep disruption, caretaker burden, and missed school days have all been reduced by integrated pest management methods.