Nathan Littauer monitors childhood asthma cases

Nathan Littauer monitors childhood asthma cases

Battling to breathe. Childhood asthma a local concern

By ZACH SUBAR, special to The Leader-Herald.
First published in print: Sunday, August 31, 2009

Littauer speaks out about asthma cases in Fulton CountyCharleston resident Heather Bivins works hard to care for her 5-year-old son Josh, who was diagnosed with asthma at age 1 1/2. She has made several early morning trips to the emergency room, and has learned to juggle the medications and devices necessary to keep the disease in check. “It’s been a roller-coaster ride,” Bivins said. “He’s to the point now where we’ve gone through it enough times where we know the symptoms and treat them aggressively.”

Still, even though there are many diligent parents like Bivins who care for their children’s asthma, numbers indicate high rates of childhood asthma, especially in Fulton County, are a reality in this area. Recent data from U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s office indicate children were hospitalized overnight 115 times from 2005 to 2007 in Fulton County for asthma symptoms. There are an estimated 866 children with asthma in the county. The number of times a child was placed in a hospital overnight compared to the number of children is higher here than almost anywhere else in New York.

That total number of overnight stays within the three-year time span out of the 866 estimated children with asthma in the county means that, on average, one in about every 7 1/2 children was required to stay overnight in a medical ward.

“If [children] have it, it’s not surprising that you would see hospitalizations,” Fulton County Public Health Director Denise Frederick said. “We’re one of the highest areas outside of New York City.” The next highest rate is in Sullivan County, where about one in every 8 1/2 children was required to stay overnight in a hospital, followed by Erie County, where about one in every 10 children with the disease had an overnight stay. The Bronx has the highest overall rate, with about one of every four hospitalized.

One of every 17 Montgomery County children with asthma was hospitalized overnight, while Hamilton County’s rate is one in every 20 children. “It’s become so commonplace that you don’t necessarily think of it as a problem,” local pediatrician Dr. Richard A. Solby said. “And then you see numbers.”

Solby, who works at Nathan Littauer Hospital’s Primary Care Center in Johnstown, said he deals with lots of child asthma patients. Part of the problem here, he said, is that many parents do not necessarily treat the disease every day, as they should.

Instead of attacking the disease in a proactive manner, Solby said, and administering the proper medicines every day, parents often wait for symptoms to start before they bring their children in to be treated.

“If you’re not treating those other components on a daily basis and being preventative, you’re running into a daily problem,” Solby said. Child asthma has been pinpointed as one of the top five public health issues in the county, according to Littauer spokeswoman Cheryl McGrattan.

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