A $1.3 million grant has been awarded to Researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Public Health to study how the risk of asthma for Texas healthcare workers has changed. The four-year funding, which is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), aims to analyze modifications in the health care field over the past ten years in order to better understand the issue.
Asthma prevalence is continuing to grow across the United States and, as it is already been observed in previous studies, there are occupational groups that are more affected by the condition than others. Researchers published a survey in 2003 revealing the increased prevalence of asthma among healthcare workers, especially nurses. The survey showed that 7.3 percent of nurses, after entering the health care field, developed asthma; in turn, 4.2 to 5.6 percent of doctors, respiratory therapists, and occupational therapists developed the disease as well.
Nurses frequently use cleaning products, which drove researchers to study the types of products used for medical instrument and general surface cleaning. Researchers found that glutaraldehyde, a medical disinfectant in liquid form, significantly increased the asthma risk in healthcare professionals. Moreover, administrating aerosolized medications and powdered latex gloves also revealed an increase in the risk of asthma; the risk associated with powdered gloves disappeared in the 2000s once care facilities started to use products with fewer respiratory effects.
Over the past 10 years, many habits and practices have changed in the healthcare industry. There are new cleaning products manufactured using new chemicals, some of which are environmentally friendly. Researchers are questioning, however, if even this new generation of cleaning products are risk-free. George Delclos, M.D., Ph.D., co-principal investigators and professor in the Division of Epidemiology, Human Genetics & Environmental Sciences at the UTHealth School of Public Health, said that he wants to find out.
In the new study, researchers will repeat the 2003 survey with a much larger sample of healthcare workers in Texas and it will include different nursing professionals. Researchers will assess if the risk has changed due to the new products and rules adopted. The first phase involves documenting any new exposures and practices in healthcare facilities that may affect the respiratory system. The second phase will be a statewide survey involving thousands of randomly selected medical professionals.
“It’s likely that changes in health care setting practices, coupled with increased awareness of asthma in health care workers, has had an effect on the burden of asthma in this worker population,” said David Gimeno, Ph.D., co-principal investigator and associate professor in the Division of Epidemiology, Human Genetics and Environmental Sciences at the UTHealth School of Public Health San Antonio Regional Campus.
In addition, Delclos and Gimeno believe there are socioeconomic consequences from the high rates of asthma in healthcare workers, and they will also study how asthma relates to absences from work.