Meg Farris / Eyewitness News
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NEW ORLEANS -- There are many children and teens in the New Orleans area living with asthma. And now, for the first time, a local researcher is testing something very common in this area that might be the reason children are going to the hospital with severe asthma attacks:cockroaches.

If you live in the New Orleans area, no doubt you've had a close encounter with cockroaches. Big or small, they love to share your groceries and water with you. But now, research is giving us yet another reason to get these pests out of our homes.

Doctors are finding now that there is something about roaches, even more than dust mites, cats, dogs, grasses, pollens, mold, and mice, that make asthma worse.

'We're just starting to realize that the cockroach has this unique property. For some reason, children exposed to cockroaches seem to have worse outcomes,' said epidemiologist Dr. Felicia Rabito, who is an associate professor in the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.

So she has devised a study to see if getting cockroaches out of the homes of children with asthma will that make them healthier with less wheezing, fewer trips to the hospital and fewer missed days at school.

'Children who are exposed to cockroaches are four times more likely to be hospitalized as compared to other children with asthma who are not exposed to cockroaches in the home,' she said.

Dr. Rabito and her team of researchers are looking for 100 children and teens with asthma to join a free study. The roaches will be cleaned out of your home and children will have breathing and allergy tests. Your home will also have an environmental test.

Then, in a year, they will see if children are healthier.

'We're hoping that you won't have as many asthma attacks, that you're better able to control your asthma,' said Dr. Rabito.

She said that since Hurricane Katrina, there are no more specialty asthma clinics through Charity Hospital. And she said school nurses are reporting a higher than usual number of children with uncontrolled asthma. So she hopes this study will give them a new intervention that will help parents and their children.

In fact, research shows nearly 57 percent of children with asthma had a high exposure to roaches, high enough to be considered at unhealthy levels and high enough to be at risk for getting sick.

No study has ever answered the question if reducing an asthmatic's exposure to roaches will help his or her health and why certain areas are worse.

'Why do children in the inner city have worse asthma even when they are taking their medicines, even when they have access to health care? Why are their asthma outcomes worse?' Dr. Rabito said.

Tulane researchers are looking for 5- to 17-year-olds in the Greater New Orleans area who have asthma and signs of roaches in the house. The homes can have an infestation to a few cockroaches.

The study lasts a year and you will be paid $100 if you are selected to be in the study. All the home and health tests are free.

To see if your child qualifies call: 504-988-6266. Spanish-speaking families can call 504-988-6845.

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