Study links chemicals to asthma in children

Report: Exposure in the first year of life is found to increase risks.

Medicine & Science

December 15, 2003|By Marla Cone | Marla Cone,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Scientists trying to unravel why childhood asthma has reached epidemic proportions have reported that a variety of chemical exposures during infancy - including pesticides and wood smoke - can substantially increase a child's risk of developing the disease.

Studying nearly 700 children in 12 communities, a team at the University of Southern California found that children exposed to household pesticides in their first year of life were more than twice as likely to develop asthma. Infants exposed to wood smoke, cockroaches and farm animals also suffered considerably more asthma.

Asthma is the most prevalent disease among U.S. children, causing more hospital stays than any other chronic childhood illness. While medical officials have a good understanding of how to treat it, they have been trying for years to figure out what makes children vulnerable.

About 20 million people in the United States have asthma, including more than 3.5 million children younger than age 15. Nearly twice as many preschoolers and school-age children had asthma in 1999 as in 1980, says a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. About 5,000 people die from asthma attacks here every year.

The USC study suggests that there is no single cause but an array of factors. It also indicates that contaminants - indoors and outdoors - have particularly potent effects on infants, so that babies' experiences might determine how healthy they will be for the rest of their lives.

"The main message is that early in life - the first year of life - may be a very, very important time for respiratory health," said Dr. Frank Gilliland, a professor of preventive medicine at Keck School of Medicine.

Gilliland was the lead author of the report, published in the online version of Environmental Health Perspectives.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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