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Potentially Fatal, But Treatable Lung Disease Thought to Occur Only in Far East Diagnosed in United States

National Jewish Health

Potentially Fatal, But Treatable Lung Disease

Potentially Fatal, But Treatable Lung Disease Thought to Occur Only In Far East Diagnosed in United States

A lung disease thought to affect only people from Japan, China and Korea has been identified in five people in the United States who have never been to the Far East and are not of Asian descent. Panbronchiolitis, diagnosed in its early stages, is stopped easily with long-term use of the antibiotic erythromycin. But the disease causes death in 50 percent of people who have it 5 years after diagnosis if left untreated, according to an article in the August issue of the American Review of Respiratory Disease.

Panbronchiolitis is found most frequently in people living in Japan; fewer than 10 cases have been identified in North America.

"For the past 10 years, panbronchiolitis was diagnosed almost entirely in Asia," explains Talmadge King Jr., M.D., a National Jewish Center for Immunology and Respiratory Medicine physician and a co-author of the study. "We believe that as physicians in the United States become more familiar with this disease there will be a significant surge in identification."

The cause of panbronchiolitis, which inflames bronchioles and surrounding alveoli, is unknown. People with the disease have severely limited air flow. Most people with the disease don't smoke, but almost all have chronic sinusitis. Chronic sinusitis, the inflammation of mucous membranes that line sinus cavities, is present in at least 75 percent of Japanese people diagnosed with panbronchiolitis.

Symptoms include coughing, sputum, recurrent fever, weight loss and a long history of illness, such as chronic sinusitis. More common in men, the disease's 10-year survival rate is 25 percent.


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