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First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton Kicks Off Nationwide Asthma Screening Program

News release: May 5, 1999
Contact: Jo Ann Faber (847) 427-1200

WASHINGTON, May 4, 1999 -- Elementary school children and their parents helped First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton kick off a Nationwide Asthma Screening Program today at a special screening at Draper Elementary School in the District of Columbia. The screening launched the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology's third annual campaign to find adults and children with symptoms of asthma through free screenings at more than 200 sites across the country.

Nationally, between 14 million and 15 million people have asthma, and many do not know they have the disease or how to control it. Almost 5 million are children who might be at risk for irreversible lung damage if their asthma is not diagnosed and treated early. The screening program is designed to help prevent this permanent damage by encouraging early diagnosis and treatment. The First Lady is committed to fighting childhood asthma and recently the administration proposed a $68 million initiative to combat the disease.

"Asthma is the most common medical threat to America's children and the problem is getting worse, particularly for younger children. That is why the Clinton administration has made an unprecedented, coordinated commitment to address this growing epidemic of asthma," said First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. "I am especially pleased that the Nationwide Asthma Screening Program is making a special effort to reach children and their parents this year."

The symptoms of asthma include coughing, chest tightness, wheezing and shortness of breath. Its exact cause is unknown, but an asthma attack often is triggered by allergens such as pollen, dust and animal dander, certain drugs and food additives, viral respiratory infections and physical exertion.

Free asthma screenings will be performed at shopping malls, civic centers, health fairs and other accessible locations throughout the country. Special outreach programs for children and parents at schools, activity centers and toy stores also will be conducted.

"Undiagnosed or undertreated asthma not only diminishes quality of life, but can cause serious long-term damage to lungs especially in younger people," said Talal M. Nsouli, M.D., chair, D.C. chapter of the Nationwide Asthma Screening Program. "That's why this year the Nationwide Asthma Screening Program is making a special effort to reach children and their parents."

Asthma is the most common chronic illness in childhood, accounting for 10 million missed school days each year. The disease is especially prevalent in the African-American community with children experiencing more severe disability, frequent hospitalizations and a death rate that is 4 to 6 times higher than in other children.

Once asthma is diagnosed, experts recommend aggressive treatment with allergen avoidance and medication. Because lung airway inflammation plays a critical role in the development of asthma, the most effective medications have anti-inflammatory effects. Studies show that inhaled corticosteroids improve control of the disease, normalize lung function and can prevent irreversible damage to lung airways.

"Today we know more than ever before about asthma, and we have the tools to treat the symptoms and control the disease," said ACAAI President Robert Miles, M.D. "The screening program informs adults and children about this, and moves them toward proper diagnosis and treatment so they take control of their disease and their lives."

More than 11,000 adults and children have been screened through the program since it was launched in 1997, and more than half have had symptoms warranting referral for a professional diagnosis. The program is funded by an educational grant from Astra Pharmaceuticals.

"During the past three years, we've seen that many people suffer needlessly because of undiagnosed or untreated asthma," said C.G. Johansson, president and CEO of AstraZeneca North America, which includes Astra Pharmaceuticals. "Astra is committed to supporting the Nationwide Asthma Screening Program and improving the life quality of adults and children with breathing problems that might be caused by the disease."

During a screening, adults and children who are experiencing breathing problems complete a 20-question Life Quality (LQ) Test developed by ACAAI for the program, and take a special lung function test that involves blowing into a tube. Participants are counseled on whether they should seek a thorough examination and diagnosis. Those who already know they have asthma can talk with a specialist about controlling their disease. Allergists, allied health professionals and patient support organizations are volunteering their time and expertise to the public education program.

Co-sponsoring the Nationwide Asthma Screening Program are two patient support organizations: the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America and the Allergy and Asthma Network/Mothers of Asthmatics.

To obtain a list of asthma screening sites or to take the LQ Test, visit the ACAAI Web site.

Related Resources

Asthma Management Website Announced by National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute

National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute's Asthma Management Model

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