Bronchial asthma in the Nigerian savanna region. A clinical and laboratory study of 106 patients with a review of the literature on asthma in the tropics.
Warrell DA., Fawcett IW., Harrison BD., Agamah AJ., Ibu JO., Pope HM., Maberly DJ.
One hundred and six asthma patients were studied in Zaria in the Nigerian savanna region. This group resembled hospital attenders in general in containing a disproportionately large number of immigrants from southern Nigeria and students undergoing higher education. Childhood asthma was rare. Asthma started after the age of 19 years in 69 per cent of patients. Twenty-seven per cent gave a history of rhinitis but none had had eczema. Twenty-two per cent gave a family history of asthma. Cutaneous hypersensitivity to house dust supported by a history of attacks being precipitated by dust was found in 41 per cent of patients. Asthma was worst in the rainy season in 45 per cent of patients. Mites were found in mattress dust samples; the mean count was 243 mites per g dust; Dermatophagoides farinae formed 86-6 per cent of the total mite population. The variability of airways obstruction averaged 50 per cent of maximum values for forced expiratory volume in the first second (FEV1) and peak expiratory flow (PEF). The median severity of airways obstruction measured as FEV1/VC per cent was four standard deviations below predicted normal. Eighty-seven per cent of patients were positive to prick skin tests with one or more allergens. The commonest reactions were to house dust (58 per cent), house dust mite (45 per cent) and Dermatophagoides farinae (44 per cent). Fifty-one per cent of a group of controls were also positive on skin testing but the pattern of responses was different from the asthmatic patients. This high proportion of reactors is explained by high allergen load. Serum IgE levels were lower in the asthmatics than in a group of healthy controls who showed the very high levels characteristic of some African populations. We suggest that the controls were protected from atopic disease by developing high blocking levels of non-specific IgE, perhaps in response to gut helminths. The clinical pattern of asthma in Zaria is compared with other countries in the tropical and temperate zones. The particular problems of treating asthma in developing tropical countries are discussed.