To determine the prevalence and severity of asthma and allergies as well as risk factors for asthma among Jamaican children aged 2–17 years.
A cross-sectional, community-based prevalence survey using the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood questionnaire. The authors selected a representative sample of 2017 children using stratified, multistage cluster sampling design using enumeration districts as primary sampling units.
Jamaica, a Caribbean island with a total population of approximately 2.6 million, geographically divided into 14 parishes.
Children aged 2–17 years, who were resident in private households. Institutionalised children such as those in boarding schools and hospitals were excluded from the survey.
Primary and secondary outcome measures
The prevalence and severity of asthma and allergy symptoms, doctor-diagnosed asthma and risk factors for asthma.
Almost a fifth (19.6%) of Jamaican children aged 2–17 years had current wheeze, while 16.7% had self-reported doctor-diagnosed asthma. Both were more common among males than among females. The prevalence of rhinitis, hay fever and eczema among children was 24.5%, 25% and 17.3%, respectively. Current wheeze was more common among children with rhinitis in the last 12 months (44.3% vs 12.6%, p<0.001), hay fever (36.8% vs 13.8%, p<0.001) and eczema (34.1% vs 16.4%, p<0.001). Independent risk factors for current wheeze (ORs, 95% CI) were chest infections in the first year of life 4.83 (3.00 to 7.77), parental asthma 4.19 (2.8 to 6.08), rhinitis in the last 12 months 6.92 (5.16 to 9.29), hay fever 4.82 (3.62 to 6.41), moulds in the home 2.25 (1.16 to 4.45), cat in the home 2.44 (1.66 to 3.58) and dog in the home 1.81 (1.18 to 2.78).
The prevalence of asthma and allergies in Jamaican children is high. Significant risk factors for asthma include chest infections in the first year of life, a history of asthma in the family, allergies, moulds and pets in the home.
The prevalence of asthma and allergies in both developed and developing countries is continuing to rise.
In some Caribbean countries, asthma is a public health problem associated with high economic costs.
This study determined the prevalence of asthma, allergy symptoms and associated risk factors.
We demonstrated that the prevalence of asthma and allergy symptoms among Jamaican children aged 2–17 years is high.
Both the prevalence and severity of asthma symptoms are comparable to that reported among children in high-income countries.
Current wheeze and doctor-diagnosed asthma were more common in males and in children with allergies.
A history of asthma in the family, chest infections in the first year of life, allergies, exposure to moulds and pets in the home were associated with significant risk for asthma.
Identifying children at high risk for asthma and controlling modifiable risk factors is important in reducing the prevalence and morbidity related to asthma.
Strengths and limitations of this study
This is the first national study on asthma and allergies in Jamaica using a nationally representative sample of children with a response rate of 80%.
We used a modified ISAAC protocol in which sampling was done by household rather than by school. Using a population-based sampling strategy; we sampled one child and one adult per household. This approach enabled us to obtain national prevalence estimates for both adults and children in one survey at a reduced cost.
Limitations of this study include the fact that the prevalence of asthma and allergies was based solely on self-reports, no objective measures were done. Also in younger children, caregivers responded to questionnaires.