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J Urban Health. 2007 Mar;84(2):185-97.

Determinants of allergen concentrations in apartments of asthmatic children living in public housing.

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  • 1Department of Environmental Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Landmark Center East/Room 3-111-23, 401 Park Drive, Boston, MA 02215, USA.


There is growing evidence linking poor housing conditions and respiratory diseases, including asthma. The association between housing conditions and asthma in the inner city has been attributed in part to cockroach and mouse infestation and the resulting allergen exposures. Multiple social and behavioral factors can influence environmental exposures and health conditions, necessitating a thorough examination of such factors. As part of the Healthy Public Housing Initiative, we evaluated the association between physical and household characteristics and pest-related allergen levels in three public housing developments in Boston, MA. We detected cockroach allergens (Bla g 1 and Bla g 2) in bedroom air, bed, and especially high concentrations in kitchen samples. In multivariate Tobit regressions controlling for development and season, clutter and lack of cleanliness in the apartment were associated with a tenfold increase in Bla g 1 concentration in the air, a sevenfold increase in Bla g 1 and an eightfold increase in Bla g 2 concentrations in the bed, and an 11-fold increase in Bla g 2 in the kitchen (p<0.05 for all). Holes in the wall/ceiling were associated with a six- to 11-fold increase in kitchen cockroach allergen concentrations (p<0.05). Occupancy in an apartment unit of 2 years or more was also associated with increased cockroach allergen concentrations. In contrast, there were low concentrations of mouse urinary protein in this population. In conclusion, these results suggest that interventions in these homes should focus on reducing cockroach allergen concentrations and that building-wide interventions should be supplemented with targeted efforts focused on high-risk units.

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