Deteriorated housing contributes to high cockroach allergen levels in inner-city households

The high prevalence of childhood asthma in low-income, inner-city populations is not fully understood but has been at least partly attributed to the disproportionate exposures associated with socioeconomic disadvantage. The contribution of indoor allergens to asthma is well documented, but links between socioeconomic disadvantage and indoor allergen levels are not clear. We investigated levels of cockroach allergens (Bla g 2) in a sample of 132 Dominican or African American low-income households with young children in northern Manhattan in New York City (40% were receiving public assistance) to determine whether the distribution of allergens is a function of housing deterioration. Deterioration was measured by the presence and number of physical housing problems (holes in the ceilings and walls, water damage, etc.). More than 50% of the sample had two or more types of housing dilapidation, and 67% of the sample reported cockroach sightings in their homes. Samples of dust were collected from kitchen and bedroom surfaces. We hypothesized that the greater the dilapidation, the higher the allergen levels, independent of income, sociocultural factors, and pest-control methods. In addition, we hypothesized that the homes of families characterized by frequent moves (23.5%) would have higher allergen levels than more stable families. Results showed significant positive associations between housing deterioration and allergen levels in kitchens, after adjusting for income and ethnicity, with independent effects of residential stability (p< 0.05). Bedroom allergen levels were associated with housing instability (p < 0.01) and ethnicity (p< 0.01). Findings demonstrated that indoor household allergen levels are related to degree of household disrepair, after adjusting for individual family attributes, suggesting that social-structural aspects of housing may be appropriate targets for public health interventions designed to reduce allergen exposure.

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