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Cockroaches May Unlock Asthma Answers

Part one: The public health approach


In the city of Boston, a volatile situation is brewing. Research into allergic asthma has shown a strong correlation between allergies to cockroaches and asthmatic response. The majority of allergic asthma sufferers are children living in low-income urban areas. And Boston Housing Authority apartments, like many public housing units in large urban areas, suffer from pest problems, with as much as 30 percent heavily infested by cockroaches.

“Here in Boston, we have found that up to 30 percent of children in public housing have asthma,” says Patricia Hynes, a professor of environmental health in the School of Public Health. “So this is a real setup for kids — to regularly be in a state of exposure to something they’re allergic to.”

Now Hynes’ research into the connection between asthma and cockroaches in public housing is helping to change public policy. Her work led to the development of the Healthy Pest-Free Housing Initiative (HPFHI), which works with the Boston Housing Authority to help reduce cockroaches and other pests in Boston public housing. The initiative’s integrated pest management (IPM) program works to educate residents on such things as home cleanliness and safe use of pesticides and includes a core group of peer educators who live in public housing and help maintain the antipest efforts from within the public housing communities.

Preliminary data from the project look very promising. Hynes is particularly pleased to have residents reporting “improved health and less stress” as a result of the IPM program.

For more information on the Healthy Pest-Free Housing Initiative, visit the BU School of Public Health Web site. For more information on IPM, click here.

Devin Hahn can be reached at dhahn@bu.edu.

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