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Katrina, Mold and Children with Asthma


Mold was a major problem in homes and other structures following the flooding that was associated with Katrina. As the fifth anniversary of Katrina arrives, it is important to remind the public that mold also had a significant, detrimental impact on children who have asthma.

Children and Asthma

Asthma is the most common chronic health problem among children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 9.1 million children in the United States have asthma, although some place the figure about 1 million higher. Although asthma can affect children of any race or socioeconomic level, minority children and those in low income situations are the most affected. Compared with white non-Hispanic children, asthma is 60 percent higher among African-American children and almost 300 percent higher among Puerto Rican children.

Mold, Asthma, and Children Post-Katrina

Since Katrina, in New Orleans a program called Head-off Environmental Asthma in Louisiana (HEAL) has been assisting families who have children with asthma. HEAL is a collaborative research project conducted by the Tulane University Health Sciences Center and the New Orleans Department of Health.

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During Phase I research of HEAL, investigators learned that nearly 80 percent of children with asthma in post-Katrina New Orleans were sensitive to mold, which is almost 30 percent higher than among children evaluated in seven other cities in the United States. Asthma is also three times more prevalent among children in New Orleans than the national rate and are among the highest in the nation. New Orleans also has the highest childhood asthma death rate in Louisiana.

According to Dr. Floyd Malveaux, executive director of Merck Childhood Asthma Network Inc (MCAN) and former dean of the College of Medicine at Howard University, “we have heard a lot about how Katrina changed the city of New Orleans, but very little about how the city’s post-Katrina environment changed health outcomes.” Among those impacted were children with asthma who were exposed to mold.

The first phase of the HEAL program paired 184 children ages 4 to 12 years who had moderate to severe asthma, and their families, with health education specialists and community health workers. These experts provided education and counseling to parents and caregivers on asthma management, while interventionists conducted home visitations to help reduce risk factors in the home.

Due to these efforts, children in the HEAL program experienced a 50 percent reduction in asthma symptoms. This success prompted the Merck Childhood Asthma Network Inc. to pledge nearly $2 million to Xavier University of Louisiana’s Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities Research and Education (CMHDRE), which will lead Phase II of the HEAL program.

Leonard Jack, Jr., PhD, MSc, CHES, director of the CMHDRE and the main investigator for HEAL Phase II, notes that “during the next four years we hope to translate the lessons learned from HEAL Phase I and HEAL II into policy initiatives that will help to institutionalize the successful case management and environmental intervention for children in New Orleans.” Although HEAL was initiated because of Katrina and a mold problem, Dr. Malveaux believes that the program offers lessons for delivering childhood asthma programs anywhere in the country.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Merck Childhood Asthma Network Inc. news release, Aug. 26, 2010