BACKGROUND--Significant ethnic differences exist in the respiratory morbidity of children in the Fiji Islands. Indian children have higher national hospital admission rates for asthma whereas Fijian children have higher admission rates for pneumonia. In Suva City the prevalence of wheeze is similar in Fijian and Indian children, productive cough is more common in Fijians, and bronchial hyperresponsiveness is more common in Indians. This study was undertaken to see whether ethnic differences in national hospital admission rates are reflected in the prevalence of respiratory symptoms in rural children. METHODS--A respiratory symptoms questionnaire in three languages with known repeatability was returned by 487 (98.2%) of 496 class 4 primary school children with a mean age of 9.3 years living in Nausori District, an agrarian region with a climate similar to Suva City. RESULTS--The prevalence of one or more episodes of wheezing in the last 12 months was similar in Fijians (19.8%) and Indians (19.4%). However, 8.9% of Indian children had experienced four or more episodes of wheeze in the last 12 months compared with only 2.9% of Fijian children. Productive cough on most mornings occurred more frequently in Fijians (35.8%) than Indians (23.9%), but this difference was not significant after controlling for the presence of a smoker in the home. CONCLUSIONS--This study provides the first evidence that frequent wheeze (four or more episodes in the last 12 months) is more prevalent in Indian than Fijian children. The higher prevalence of productive cough in Fijian children may be related to exposure to smoking in the home.
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