Upper respiratory tract viruses may contribute to racial and ethnic differences in childhood asthma

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According to a new study published in Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Lead author Darlene Bhavnani, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of public health at the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin. She and her team compared the number of emergency department visits related to asthma among black, Hispanic and white children living in Travis County before, during and after COVID-19 prevention efforts took effect.

“Looking at the data, we made two key observations,” said Bhavnani, who is also an infectious disease epidemiologist at the Biomedical Data Science Hub at Dell Med. “One is that the circulation of upper respiratory viruses decreased in our community during the height of stay-at-home orders. The second is that the differences in asthma exacerbations between children of color and white children were dramatically reduced at the same time.”

Key findings of the study include:

  • Black children had nearly seven times more emergency room visits than white children in the spring of 2019. This rate dropped to two-fold in spring 2020 after pandemic mitigation efforts took effect, then rose again to five-fold in spring 2019. spring 2021, when those measures were lifted and the circulation of the respiratory virus increased.
  • Latinx children had twice as many ER visits than white children in the spring of 2019. The two groups had similar rates in 2020, but the rate among Latinx children was nearly 1.5 times that of white children in Spring 2021.

“The reduction in racial and ethnic disparities in emergency room visits when the circulation of upper respiratory viruses was reduced raises the question of whether these viruses are causing some of the differences we see in asthma exacerbations outside of pandemic periods,” said Bhavnani.

Based on these results, senior author and pediatrician Elizabeth Matsui, MD, says the focus is now on investigating why Black and Latinx children may be more vulnerable to upper respiratory viral infections such as the flu, rhinovirus, RSV and adenovirus.

“We need more research to test this hypothesis and to identify contextual factors that may underlie an increased vulnerability to these seasonal viruses,” said Matsui, who is the co-chair for research in the Department of Public Health and a professor of Departments of Pediatrics. and Public Health at Dell Med. “It could be that they’re more exposed. It could be that they’re more susceptible or they have more serious infections that lead to exacerbations.”

Next, Bhavnani and her team will investigate the social and environmental factors that may play a role in the increased vulnerability to upper respiratory tract viruses.

For example, at the neighborhood level, there may be challenges that expose a child to more viruses at school, such as overcrowded classrooms and inadequate ventilation.

“There’s also research linking air pollution and exposure to certain allergens to an increased susceptibility to viral infections that we’re only just beginning to appreciate,” Bhavnani said. “If we can learn more about the links between the environment and our health, we can begin to think about how to reduce these ubiquitous disparities.”

More information:
Darlene Bhavnani et al. Do upper respiratory tract viruses contribute to racial and ethnic disparities in emergency room visits for asthma?, Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.jaci.2022.10.031

Offered by the University of Texas at Austin

Quote: Upper respiratory tract viruses may contribute to racial and ethnic disparities in childhood asthma (2023, March 1) Retrieved March 2, 2023 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2023-03-upper-respiratory-viruses-contribute -racial.html

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Upper respiratory tract viruses may contribute to racial and ethnic differences in childhood asthma

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