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14 September 2001 News Update


New Zealanders are being urged to be careful in their use of paracetamol after an international study linked high use of the painkiller with a surge in asthma cases.

The study of 140,000 people in 22 countries - one of them New Zealand - over 10 years found a possible link between the drug's sale and prevalence of asthma. In some countries people were up to eight times more likely to contract allergic respiratory diseases than in similar countries with lower use of paracetamol, according to the study published in the European Respiratory Journal.

A high prevalence was found in Australia, New Zealand, Britain and the United States, but not Iceland, Greece, Norway, Italy and Spain, the Swedish study found.

Researchers were now planning a randomised controlled trial, giving one group paracetamol and the other group a placebo, to see whether the drug was linked to asthma.

Asthma and Respiratory Foundation medical director Ian Town, of
Christchurch, urged caution in interpreting the study's findings.
"It shows a statistical association between paracetamol and the prevalance of asthma in those countries ... but an association does not prove cause and effect.

"However, when observations are made across large groups like this it does raise questions about whether or not the regular use of paracetamol in high doses is advisable." Only a random trial could prove cause and effect, he said.

Dr Town said while occasional use of the painkiller was quite safe, the foundation urged asthmatics not to take high doses for lengthy periods without consulting their doctor first.

New Zealand had some of the highest rates of asthma in the world, with 15 percent of adults suffering from it and between 25 and 30 percent of children.

Professor Innes Asher, of Auckland, said the statistical data was
a "fairly crude" analysis. She said asthmatics should not stop taking paracetamol for controlling fever and pain control as a result of this study, but should use it wisely.

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