Kalihi homes testing cockroach-asthma link
|Photo gallery: Cockroach-asthma connection|
By Kim Fassler
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Kim Fassler
State officials are teaming with Kalihi residents to minimize cockroach populations in their homes and probe the link between the critters and asthma attacks.
Roaches are a year-round nuisance in Hawai'i, but many people don't realize the pests' droppings and saliva can also trigger allergic reactions in some people, said Alice Silbanuz, public education coordinator for the state Department of Health.
Pieces of the decaying dead roaches or roach droppings can also end up in dust or air breathed by residents.
As part of National Asthma Awareness Month, the Health Department will pass out 6,000 nontoxic roach traps along with informational brochures to 373 families in the Kalihi Valley Homes housing complex on Kalena Drive.
Residents there have dealt with a persistent roach population for more than 30 years, said Taiaopo Tuimalealiifano, president of the Kalihi Valley Homes Residents Association.
"You have to clean often, but it never goes away," she said. "Things come back."
Tuimalealiifano, a 20-year resident, said many of her neighbors suffer from asthma. The close proximity of homes in the multi-unit complex also make it easier for roaches to migrate from one family to another, she said.
"It's not healthy for the little kids and for everyone else," she said.
Twelve percent of Hawai'i children up to 18 years old suffer from asthma, according to Health Department studies. One in seven children between the ages of 5 and 14 have asthma. That figure is slightly above the national average determined in a 2003 study of 22 states and territories.
About 8 percent of adults in Hawai'i experience asthma symptoms.
Kalihi Valley Homes residents will be asked to return surveys after one month that will help health officials study the connection between roach populations and asthma prevalence.
If the pilot program is successful, the department hopes to expand it to other locations and help the more than 50 percent of Hawai'i asthma sufferers who are allergic to cockroaches by identifying asthma exacerbations that can be removed from homes.
Health officials advise against sprays, powders and foggers that may contain harmful chemicals.
Tuimalealiifano said the initiative is a "much appreciated" effort, especially since purchasing several traps every month can be expensive.
She hopes the program will encourage residents to be more vigilant about wiping out the roach population and raise awareness about the causes of asthma.
"It's a win-win thing," she said.
Reach Kim Fassler at firstname.lastname@example.org.