By Sarah Snyder
More and more people in Southeast New Mexico are being hospitalized for asthma, but doctors can't pinpoint the cause. That's why on Thursday state health officials are here in Hobbs to try and find some answers.
"We're just really honored to be down here with our colleagues and see what we can find out about how we can help and how we can improve things," Alfredo Vigil, M.D., Secretary with the NM Department of Health, said.
Back in 2000, Dr. Whorton began studying asthma rates in New Mexico, and found that the numbers stand out above all the rest.
"The state rate is 22.4, but when you break it down by counties, Lea County where it's 152.6 which is dramatically higher than the state rate, and the highest counties are here in black and we find a cluster here in the southeast," Brad Whorton, PhD, Asthma Epidemiologist, said.
For now, healthcare officials are investigating a number of possible culprits.
"You can certainly speculate about environment, or viruses, or smoking, or a number of factors," Dr. Vigil said.
"In addition to that, there could be a shortage of pediatricians, it could be that some pediatricians aren't taking medicaid insurance," Dr. Whorton said. "We really don't know. That's why we're here to get local input."
Doctors say asthma seems to be affecting folks across the board, but most recently, children.
"What's really interesting is there has been an increase in children with asthma over the last 10, 20, 30 years in the country as a whole," Dr. Vigil said.
The hospitalization rates and risk of death are the biggest threats, but there's also a big economic impact that's raising concerns.
"Asthma is a very important issue now in the health care system," Dr. Vigil said. "The cost of treating asthma is very high and it's a big part of the health care costs."
They're hoping Thursday's meeting will shed some light on an issue that's never been addressed by so many different health care professionals in the southeast part of the State.
"If we can get the right factors together, we're very confident we can make some major improvements," Dr. Vigil said.