Nearly half of all adult asthma cases – 48 percent -- might be related to work – and thus, preventable -- according to a study published in the CDC’s MMWR last month. This finding means as many as 2.7 million U.S. workers might have asthma caused by or exacerbated by workplace conditions.

Researchers Katelynn E. Dodd, MPH, and Jacek M. Mazurek, MD, used data from the 2006–2007 adult Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) Asthma Call-back Survey (ACBS) to quantify potential occupationally-associated asthma cases and to identify the workers most at risk, by industry and state.

Health care workers at highest risk

Among the five industries with the highest current asthma prevalence, health care and social assistance was identified in 20 of the 21 states, retail trade in 16 states, and education in 14 states. Among the five occupations with the highest current asthma prevalence, office and administrative support was identified in 16 of the 21 states, health care practitioners and technical in 15 states, and sales and related in 13 states.

By state, current asthma prevalence was highest among workers in the information industry (18.0%) in Massachusetts and in health care support occupations (21.5%) in Michigan.

Where the data comes from

The ACBS is an in-depth asthma survey conducted with respondents from 33 states who reported an asthma diagnosis. BRFSS is a state-based, random-digit–dialed telephone survey of the noninstitutionalized U.S. population aged ≥18 years that collects information on health risk factors, preventive health practices, and disease status.

Dodd and Mazurek point out that further analysis of BRFSS industry and occupation and optional asthma modules can help identify workplace exposures, and guide the design and evaluation of effective work-related asthma prevention and education programs.

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