Environmental Asthma

Department of Occupational and Environmental Health

Prevalence of asthma and respiratory symptoms in South Central Durban


Jerome Nriagu, Thomas Robins, Lisa Gary, Girvin Liggans, Rebecca Davila, Kiabe Supuwood, Charla Harvey, Chimpak C. Jinabhai & Rajen Naidoo

The prevalence of asthma and respiratory symptoms in south-central Durban, one of the most heavily polluted areas of South Africa, has been determined using a cross-sectional survey of 213 households in the communities of Merewent (97% Indians) and Austerville (98% coloreds).

The study population consisted of 367 children (less than 17 years old) and 693 adults. About 10% of the children and 12% of adults reported doctor diagnosed asthma.
The prevalence rates for wheezing (37-40%) and attacks of shortness of breath with wheeze (16-28%) were much higher than that for asthma and common co-occurrence of the three symptoms is found. The prevalence rates for other respiratory symptoms include 33-35% for chronic cough, 31-32% for chronic phlegm, 44-50% for frequent blocked-runny nose, and 16-27% for sinusitis. Among the adult population, the prevalence rate for asthma was correlated with cigarette smoking (odds ratio, OR = 4.6), distance of household from an industry (OR = 3.2), and use of pumpspray insecticide (OR = 2.3).

An association between asthma among children and a number of household risk factors including dampness, carpet, pets or use of pesticides was not apparent in the community.

Asthma prevalence was strongly correlated with missing of school by children (OR = 44; CI = 13-141). The study serves to draw attention to a growing but neglected public health problem in urban areas of Africa.

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