An unusually high prevalence of asthma in Ethiopian immigrants to Israel

Reena Rosenberg, Shlomo Vinker, Hava Zakut, Felix Kizner, Sasson Nakar, Eliezer Kitai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background and Objectives: The past 20 years have seen a large immigration of Ethiopian Jews to Israel, primarily in 2 airlifts, one in 1984-1985 and one in 1991. Infectious and parasitic diseases were the dominant health problems in the early years. Recently, we noticed changing health patterns in this population, particularly an increase in clinic visits for asthma, which contrasted with asthma rates of 2.5% reported among Ethiopian Jews at the time of immigration to Israel. This study evaluated the prevalence and characteristics of asthma in a population of Jews of Ethiopian origin who had been in Israel for 8-17 years. Methods: We audited 302 files of adult patients of Ethiopian origin and 604 files of age- and gender- matched patients of non-Ethiopian origin. Each file was reviewed by 2 physicians. Asthma was defined by published clinical criteria as found in the patient file. Data on allergies and eosinophilia were collected as well. Results: The average age of the 2 groups of asthmatics was 44.1 ± 16.2 and 42.4 ± 20. 7 years, respectively. The prevalence of asthma in the patients of Ethiopian origin was 51/302 (17%), compared with 35/604 (5.8%) in the control group. Thirty-three percent of the Ethiopian asthmatics and 37% of the control group suffered from various allergic diseases. Among the patients of Ethiopian origin, the prevalence of eosinophilia was 44%, with no significant difference between asthmatics and nonasthmatic patients (49% versus 43%). Eosinophilia was found in 8.4% of the control group. Asthma was more prevalent among patients with eosinophilia (22%) than without eosinophilia (6.4%). Conclusions: Asthma is 3 times as prevalent in adults of Ethiopian origin, compared with the general population in our clinics, and markedly increased above the rate reported for newly immigrated Ethiopian Jews. We conclude that the move from the rural hills of Ethiopia to the more urban and industrialized setting of Israel has resulted in an increased prevalence of asthma in this population, but the specific cause is uncertain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)276-282
Number of pages7
JournalFamily Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1999


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