The rates of asthma for children and adults in Connecticut is higher than the national average and children in cities have a particularly high rate of the respiratory disease, according to a report released by state health officials Thursday.
According to the state department of public health's report, "The Burden of Asthma in Connecticut," 89,300, or 11.3 percent, of Connecticut children from birth to 17 years old had asthma in 2010. The national rate for children is 9.4 percent, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Connecticut, as is New England, is higher than the national (average) and we have been in previous reports," said Eileen Boulay, director of the asthma program for the state health department. "If you ask me why, I can't give you a reason."
The report also found:
Among adults in Connecticut, 9.2 percent have asthma, while the national rate is 8.2 percent.
There were 50 asthma-related deaths in Connecticut in 2009. Nationally, there were 3,388 fatalities the same year.
New Haven had the highest rate of asthma-related hospitalizations, with 65 per 10,000 people. Hartford had 35 per 10,000 hospitalizations, while New Hartford had only 2 per 10,000 people.
Twice as many children in households with annual incomes less than $15,000 have asthma as those living in households with annual incomes of $75,000.
Mary Alice Lee, a senior policy fellow with Connecticut Voices for Children, an advocacy group that has studied Connecticut's childhood asthma rates, said the higher prevalence of asthma in urban areas could be attributed in part to more air pollution and the fact that smoking indoors – which exacerbates the disease – is more common in low-income households.
Because it's a controllable disease, Boulay said the amount of acute care being used to treat asthma shouldn't be as high as it is. Between 2005 and 2009, the report states, there was an average annual of about 30,000 asthma-related hospitalizations and the number of hospitalizations increased by 13 percent in that period.
Of all the groups included in the report, African-American children had the highest rates of asthma-related hospitalizations from 2005 to 2009, but Hispanic children had the highest number of visits to emergency departments for asthma. From 2005 to 2009, the number of emergency department visits among Hispanic children increased by about 50 percent. Boulay said one of the goals for her department is to find out why.
"Are they waiting longer, or do they not know to recognize the symptoms sooner?" she said. "We don't know."
The costs of hospital care for asthma was almost $113 million in 2009. Of that, public insurance paid for 74 percent of asthma hospitalizations and 60 percent of emergency department visits, the report said.
With better education, Boulay said, those costs could be significantly reduced. "We don't need more money, we just need to shift the paradigm," she said.
To reduce the asthma rates and the number of hospitalizations, Boulay said her department plans to work more with Hispanic advocacy groups to increase education about controlling asthma.
Also, Boulay said, the state has a program called "Putting on Airs" in which workers go to at-risk homes and offer suggestions on ways that could reduce the risk of asthma. For instance, they might show residents how to rid their home of mold or dust mites.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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