Cockroaches can be major etiological agents of allergic disease. A number of reports indicate that the prevalence and incidence of asthma have been rising at alarming rates and many emergency room admissions of adults and children with asthma are associated with mite, cat, or cockroach allergens. The National Cooperative Inner-City Asthma Study (NCICAS) showed that 37% of children are allergic to cockroaches because of chronic exposure to cockroaches (Rosenstreich et al. 1997; New Engl. J. Medicine 336, 1356-1363). These children had a 3.4 times higher rate of hospitalization than other study cohorts, they made 78% more asthma-related unscheduled visits to health care providers, awoke more nights, and missed more school days. They also had more days of wheezing and their care givers were forced to change their plans more often (e.g., missed work). Other studies have confirmed that cockroach allergen level is a good predictor of repeated wheeze and asthma. Cockroaches are also an important etiological agent in perennial allergic rhinitis in older adults.
The overall goal of our research on allergens is to elucidate the source of cockroach allergens and their spatial and temporal distribution in cockroach-infested residential settings and livestock production systems. Ultimately, this information should facilitate development of mitigation strategies to reduce exposure of residents and workers to potentially harmful allergens. Our research on cockroach allergens addresses the following questions:
- Where within the cockroach are various allergens produced? We use allergen-specific ELISAs (see INDOOR Biotechnologies), immunohistochemistry and in situ hybridization
- How does the production of allergens vary in relation to development, reproduction, and food intake?
- What is the spatial distribution of allergens in cockroach-infested homes and in confined swine facilities?
- How do allergen levels vary in relation to season and animal production practices?
- Can cockroach control and various mitigation tactics (e.g., extensive cleaning) reduce allergen levels?
The latter is done in collaboration with NIEHS researchers.