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Published: Wednesday, 7/11/2001

Ohio told it should monitor asthma incidents


COLUMBUS - Ohio is among 12 states with high air-pollution levels that do not track asthma cases, says a study released yesterday by a new group in Washington.

The Trust for America's Health wants the federal government to form a nationwide network to track asthma cases and other chronic diseases to find “hot spots” and look for causes.

Ohio is among 27 states that do not track cases of asthma, a chronic disease that causes wheezing, shortness of breath, and death in extreme cases. Ohio is among the 12 of 20 states with the highest levels of air pollution that do not track for asthma, the study says.

As required by the federal and state governments, the Ohio Department of Health tracks infectious diseases such as E.coli, hepatitis, measles, mumps, diptheria, and rabies, spokeswoman Cheryl Lufitz said.

Even among the states that do track asthma cases - such as Michigan - the data is not uniform, making it “impossible to determine whether variations in asthma rates” are from health factors or how officials collect the information, the study says.

A nationwide system to track asthma could make it easier to track other chronic diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis, and diabetes, the study says.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17 million American suffered from asthma in 1998 and more than 5,000 per year die from it.

The Trust for America's Health analyzed three categories of pollution that many public-health officials believe are linked to asthma attacks and other respiratory problems: particulate matter, ozone, and toxic industrial emissions.

Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas are in the top 10 in all three categories and none tracks asthma, said Dr. Shelley Hearne, executive director of the Trust for America's Health.

“To be sure ... air pollutants are not the only suspects in asthma attacks,” the study says. “Indoor air contamination from allergens derived from dust mites, cockroaches, molds, pet dander, tobacco smoke, and other pollutants also are known to trigger asthma attacks.”

Dr. David Grossman, director of the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department, said he believes asthma is a “big problem” in Lucas County, but he does not have data to support that belief.

The key is persuading physicians to report cases to the government, Dr. Grossman said.

“Most asthma cases are seen in private offices. Will they turn those cases in? That is our major problem,” he said.

The Ohio Department of Health is applying for grant funds from the Centers for Disease Control to start a system to track asthma cases, Ms. Lufitz said. Michigan has received funding from the CDC for its program since 1998, spokeswoman Geralyn Lasher said.

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