ASTHMA: Is Modern Life the Culprit for Rising Incidence?
Anxious to understand the increasing incidence of asthma cases in developed countries, some scientists are turning to the theory that "modern life may be responsible," Atlantic Monthly reports. Specialists are beginning to throw their support behind the idea that people who develop asthma have immune systems that developed too slowly to be able to distinguish between "annoying and serious irritants," leaving their bodies to produce "an armada of antibodies to fight cockroaches or dust mites as though they were deadly microbes." Researchers like Fernando Martinez, director of respiratory sciences at the University of Arizona, believe that modern hygiene practices and antibiotics hinder the development of children's immune systems. "By legitimately protecting our kids from dangerous infections we may have kept parts of their immune systems from maturing," Martinez said. This hypothesis could explain why asthma incidence rates are on the rise in developed countries, compared to developing countries where children are "repeatedly infected by bacteria and parasites." In the United States alone, 15 million people are afflicted with asthma, five to six million of whom are children. Asthma also is the most common chronic disorder among children and the leading cause of childhood hospitalizations and school absenteeism. According to the CDC, costs associated with the disease will total $14.5 billion this year (Shell, May issue).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.