Area health center to investigate connection between asthma, blacks

jpaprocki@islandpacket.comNovember 1, 2011 

Janie Glover comes from a family of allergy sufferers. But about seven years ago, her allergies started triggering something worse. Turns out, she had developed asthma.

She takes medications, but her asthma has been so bad that it has put her in the hospital. Just recently, as a co-worker cleaned the floors with a chemical, she felt chest tightness, a shortness of breath. She was having an attack. She ended up in the emergency room.

"When it flares up, it flares up really bad," she said.

About one in nine black people, like Glover, suffers from asthma. The rate is even higher among children. That makes it the highest rate among all ethnic groups, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Glover is taking part in a local study to help fight these trends. The Beafort- Jasper-Hampton Comprehensive Health Services is one of several sites nationwide that is administering a study of how black asthma sufferers respond to certain treatments to asthma.

The study looks at how participants respond to Tiotropium, a medication used to treat a respiratory illness called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Those involved will either be put on Tiotropium or a long-acting beta agonist, a commonly used asthma medication, to determine if the former medication is more effective.

As part of the study, participants give a saliva sample. From that, doctors will attempt to determine whether blacks are genetically disposed to respond differently to common treatments to asthma.

Recent research has suggested that a genetic mutation unique to blacks might make them more susceptible to asthma.

That research might offer insight into why blacks develop the condition more so than other ethnic groups, although a number of other factors might play a role, such as access to health care, poverty or proximity to asthma triggers such as pollution. The prevalence of asthma attacks in blacks is about 19 percent more than caucasians. The death rate is 165 percent higher in blacks than whites, according to the CDC.

Researchers hope the study, which is sponsored by the Harvard Clinical Research Institute and funded through a federal government grant, will provide another clue as to the troubling relation between blacks and asthma.

"We're hoping to figure out why these rates are so high," said Dr. Rosalind Dawson, who is heading up the study at comprehensive health services.

Glover said she enrolled in the study to help in the fight against asthma. Since getting diagnosed, she's spoken with other family and friends about getting checked out if they feel something is wrong. At first, she put off seeking treatment, concerned about the costs. But then she decided to make her health a priority.

"A lot of people don't understand," she said. "They don't understand the triggers; they don't understand what this is.

"I reached a point where I told myself, 'I don't want to be playing games with my health.'"

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