TRENTON– Hospitalization rates for asthma are declining in New Jersey and fewer people are dying as a result of the chronic airway disease, but asthma still affects more than 500,000 people in the state.
Minorities and young children are particularly hard-hit by asthma, Health and Senior Services Commissioner Clifton R. Lacy M.D. announced today in releasing Asthma in New Jersey, the first report outlining the burden of asthma in the state.
The Department of Health and Senior Services released the report to mark World Asthma Day today and to raise public awareness of asthma as a serious health problem. The report was produced by the department’s Asthma Surveillance Project with funding from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Asthma is one of the nation’s most significant chronic conditions,” Dr. Lacy said. “We are working to understand better the extent of New Jersey’s asthma problem and to improve the health and quality of life of our residents with asthma.”
Asthma is a disease in which airways become constricted. This occurs in response to triggers – such as cold air, exercise, allergens, or viral infections – which results in breathing difficulty. If an episode is severe, emergency medical treatment may be necessary. The cause of asthma is not known. However, asthma tends to run in families.
Asthma in New Jersey compiles the currently available data on asthma prevalence, hospitalization rates and mortality in the state, as well as information on occupational asthma cases.
New Jersey prevalence data are based on estimates. In 1998, the CDC estimated 540,000 New Jerseyans suffered from asthma. The 2000 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey, a random telephone survey of adults, found that about 400,000 New Jersey adults currently had asthma, and 500,000 to 600,000 had asthma at one time in their lives.
Most asthma attacks can be successfully managed outside the hospital. Since the early 1990s, asthma hospitalization rates have decreased significantly, though rates for African-Americans and Hispanics remain higher than those for whites and Asians. Children under age five have the highest hospitalization rates, and are the only age group in which rates have increased from 1985 to 1999.
Death from asthma is uncommon. New Jersey’s asthma mortality rates have declined more quickly than the nation’s rates, dropping 46 percent from 1996 to 1999. African-Americans continue to have higher death rates than do whites, Hispanics and Asians.
Occupational asthma results from an exposure to a chemical or biological agent in the workplace. From 1993 to 1997, 165 cases of occupational asthma were identified in New Jersey through the Sentinel Event Notification System for Occupational Risks (SENSOR). New Jersey is one of four states participating in SENSOR, which also conducts work site interventions and prevention activities. SENSOR is funded by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
DHSS is developing new data collection systems, including an electronic Emergency Department surveillance system that will include data on asthma-related visits. DHSS works closely with the Pediatric Asthma Coalition of New Jersey as well as other agencies of state government to improve asthma education, outreach, diagnosis and care.”
The asthma report is available on the department’s web site, www.state.nj.us/health/fhs/famhlth.htm.