Published Online: March 5, 1997

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Myriad Reasons Cited in Increase in Asthma Cases

The largest study of asthma among urban youths has found that several factors, not one single cause, account for the sharp increase in asthma cases over the past two decades.

Research paid for by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Md., concluded that cigarette smoke, indoor allergens, psychological problems, and poor access to medical care all contribute to asthma attacks.

"There's no quick fix," commented Dr. Christopher Fanta of the Partners Asthma Center at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, who was not involved in the study.

The study was presented last week at a meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology in San Francisco.

Of the more than 1,500 children, ages 4 to 11, who participated in the study that was conducted from 1991 to 1996, 75 percent were African-American and 20 percent were Hispanic. The children lived in Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, New York City, St. Louis, and Washington.

Asthma was most severe for the half of the patients who said that they have trouble seeing doctors or getting medicine. Patients who were assigned a social worker to educate them about the disease and encourage treatment saw a 30 percent reduction in their symptoms, said Dr. Daniel Rotrosen, the chief of the federal institute's asthma, allergy, and inflammation branch.

"Asthma affects minorities and the inner-city population extremely hard," said Dr. Bruce D. Levy, another member of the Partners Asthma Center. "I was excited to see that the intervention of a social worker makes a significant impact."

About 15 million Americans suffer from asthma, which is the nation's leading chronic health condition among children.

Fathers' Smoking May Increase Child's Risk of Cancer

Men who smoke cigarettes before becoming fathers may increase their children's risk of cancer, notes a recent study conducted in Shanghai, China.

The research, which was published in the Feb. 5 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, is significant in that most studies of childhood cancer have focused on smoking by mothers.

"I expect men to be surprised by this," said Dr. Bu-Tian Ji of the National Cancer Institute, also in Bethesda. He co-wrote the article in the medical journal. "We hope young men who want to have children will pay attention to this study."

Researchers interviewed the parents of 642 cancer patients who were younger than 15 years old and another 642 parents of healthy children. They found that men who had smoked cigarettes were 30 percent more likely to produce children with cancer than were nonsmokers. The increased risk of cancer appeared to relate to smoking before the children's birth.

Furthermore, the longer the men had been smokers, the greater the danger to their children, the study says. Children whose fathers smoked heavily for more than five years before their birth were at a 4.5 times higher risk for lymphoma than children of nonsmoking fathers.

About 14 out of every 100,000 U.S. children younger than 15 are diagnosed with cancer each year, according to the federal agency.

Chronic Ear Infections on the Rise

Chronic ear infections among preschoolers increased in the 1980s because more children were in day care and more suffered from allergies, a study concludes.

The number of preschoolers nationwide with repeat middle-ear infections rose from 4.1 million in 1981 to 5.9 million in 1988, the study found. The rate increased as well--from 18.7 percent to 26 percent, a 44 percent jump.

The research, led by Dr. Bruce P. Lanphear, a professor at the University of Rochester school of medicine and dentistry in New York, appears in the March 3 issue of the Internet version of Pediatrics, the journal published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

--BETH REINHARD

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