Children with asthma related to mouse allergies show as much improvement when their families are taught how to clean allergens and trap mice as they do when professional pest managers treat the home, a new study by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine researchers suggests.
The results, published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, could help doctors and scientists who have long looked for ways to reduce rates and symptoms of asthma in Baltimore.
The rate of children suffering from the lung condition in the city is twice the national average, and the city's hospitalization rate for children with asthma is the highest in Maryland, according to city health data. Nationwide, 6 million children, or 8.6 percent, suffer from asthma, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Prior studies have shown that mouse allergens — primarily proteins found in the animals' urine — are present in the homes of nearly all children who have asthma in low-income, urban areas.
The researchers conducted the study by enrolling families in Baltimore and Boston that have children with serious asthma symptoms and an allergy to mice. They provided education in preventive measures to one randomly selected group and hired professional exterminators for the other group.
The group given extermination services was also given preventive education and the education only group was offered professional pest management services at the end of the study.
For both groups, researchers found substantial reductions in mouse allergen levels and improvements in health, which included diminished symptoms as well as fewer trips for medical care.
"Our findings suggest that giving families good instructions about how to reduce the mouse allergens that trigger asthma in their children may be enough to get the job done and, consequently, improve asthma symptoms," says Dr. Elizabeth Matsui, professor of pediatrics in the school of medicine and the paper's lead author.
Matsui said that one small study found previously that professional pest management could produce large reductions in mouse allergen levels, but the researchers wanted to determine whether professional pest management reduced illness from asthma in kids regularly exposed to the allergens.
They ended up finding that both groups, those with and without professional assistance, reduced the allergens and that lead to substantial improvements in asthma. And the researchers say this shows that such families generally should be given inexpensive do-it-yourself instructions.