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COVID-19 and Asthma

Asthma is a chronic lung disease that causes periods of wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and coughing. It is a major contributing factor to missed time from school and work, with severe attacks requiring emergency room visits and hospitalizations. Sometimes these asthma attacks can be fatal.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, federal authorities are examining the connection between the virus and asthma.

According to a news release from the National Institutes of Health, three of its institutes are supporting and conducting studies on asthma. They are the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS); the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI); and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

Another federal institution, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), recommends that people with asthma should continue their current asthma medications and discuss any concerns with their healthcare provider.

Researchers at NIH and elsewhere are working to learn more about COVID-19 and to develop specific treatments and vaccines.

The CDC recommends that people with asthma continue their medications.

For example, NIAID is initiating a home-based study to assess the incidence of infection with COVID-19, in children and their caregivers and siblings. A key objective of this observational study will be to determine if infection rates or immune responses to COVID-19 infection differ in children who have asthma or other allergic conditions compared to those who have not been diagnosed with or treated for these conditions.

NIAID also is starting an observational study in patients hospitalized for COVID-19 to that may help determine whether underlying diseases, such as asthma, influence the body’s response to infection.

In related research, NIH scientists are making progress in understanding the underlying factors that contribute to the development of asthma in U.S. children. This year, an international collaboration led by NIEHS scientists reported that the presence of newly discovered novel epigenetic markers — or chemical tags that attach to DNA — may indicate a newborn’s risk of developing asthma. The data may help researchers find asthma biomarkers, or molecular indicators of asthma, and identify at birth which children will eventually develop the condition.

Ongoing NIAID-funded clinical studies focus on interventions to prevent asthma development in children at high risk of developing the condition. One team of researchers studied a large group of children who were hospitalized as infants with bronchiolitis, a common early-life lung infection usually caused by a virus. The scientists found that recurrent wheezing by age 3 is at least three times more likely to occur in children whose bronchiolitis was associated with a rhinovirus C infection and who also had early signs of allergy to foods or inhaled allergens.

African Americans and people of African ancestry

Another group that bears a disproportionate burden of asthma is African Americans. In an NHLBI-funded study that is the largest genome-wide association study of asthma in African ancestry populations to date, researchers identified two novel regions on a specific chromosome that may be linked to asthma risk. The scientists theorize that a better understanding of the genetic risk factors for asthma in African ancestry populations will lead to development of better therapeutic interventions.

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Potential new treatments

Using a mouse model of asthma, NIEHS researchers reported a possible treatment for neutrophilic asthma, a particularly severe form that responds poorly to the standard asthma therapy of corticosteroids. The orally available drug VTP-938 made it easier for the mice to breathe after they were exposed to house dust extracts. The results suggest that VTP-938 may be an innovative treatment for humans with this steroid-resistant form of asthma.

Genes involved in asthma

An NIAID-funded study sought to understand why some, but not all, colds lead to asthma attacks among children with asthma. The scientists obtained nasal washings from 106 children with severe asthma who experienced cold symptoms. Members of the research team compared samples from those who required corticosteroids after a cold-induced asthma attack and those who did not have an asthma attack following a cold. The research team found that colds that led to an asthma attack caused changes in the production of six families of genes that are associated with maintaining the function of the outermost layer of tissue lining the respiratory tract and with the responses of immune cells in close contact with this layer.

Asthma management

NHLBI’s National Asthma Education Prevention Program is coordinating the 2020 focused updates to the 2007 Asthma Management Guidelines. These guidelines are designed to improve the care of people living with asthma as well as help primary care providers and specialists make decisions about asthma management. NHLBI released the updated focus areas of the guidelines for public comment, and the final recommendations for these areas are expected to be published later this year.

For the latest news from the federal government on COVID-19, click here and here.

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