American Homes Are
Crawling With Allergens
By Maggie Fox - Health and Science Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. houses are literally crawling with bugs that can worsen allergies and asthma, government researchers said on Tuesday.
They said the first-ever national survey of dust mites and cockroaches showed that 45 percent, or 44 million homes, have dust mite allergens and 6 percent or almost 6 million U.S. homes have cockroach allergens in the beds.
Dust mites and cockroaches are known to cause allergic reactions and worsen asthma symptoms in many people.
"High levels of indoor allergens can increase the frequency and severity of allergy symptoms,'' Patrick Vojta of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), who conducted the survey, told a telephone news briefing.
Vojta, who presented the findings to a meeting of the American Thoracic Society in Toronto, said the problem is not a trivial one.
"Asthma remains the most common chronic childhood disease in the United States today,'' he said.
Vojta said the NIEHS, one of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), funded the survey along with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
They sent a questionnaire to 830 homes asking about cleaning habits, present or past history of roach or insect infestation, time spent outside the home, smoking and other issues related to asthma and allergies.
They visited more than 500 of these homes, inspecting conditions and taking dust samples. They then extrapolated the findings to the entire U.S. population.
Vojta said his findings, to be presented on Wednesday, were a preliminary look at the samples taken from bedding.
"Beds in 23 percent of homes, or about 22 million, have dust mite allergens at a level associated with allergen sensitization,'' he said.
He said 15 percent of the homes had dust mites at a level that has been found to increase the symptoms of asthma.
It would be easy to prevent problems associated with dust mites, he said, including encasing non-washable bedding items such as box springs, mattresses and pillows in allergy-proof covers. But only 4 percent of the households surveyed had them.
In addition, washing bedding every week in water that is at least 130 degrees F (54 C) can remove dust mite allergens, yet only 40 percent of U.S. homes surveyed did this.
Vojta said the problems were found not just in the inner cities, but in suburban and rural homes as well.
"Seventeen percent of respondents had problems with roaches in the year preceding the survey,'' he said.
Vojta said more than 10 percent of homes, about 1.2 million, have roach infestations in their beds that are bad enough to worsen allergies. He thinks the picture will be even worse when his team looks at samples taken from kitchens.
They will also process data on allergens from dogs, cats and fungi.


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