The challenge of diagnosing atopic diseases: outcomes in Cuban children depend on definition and methodology


Dr M. Wördemann
Department of Parasitology
Prince Leopold Institute of Tropical Medicine
Nationalestraat 155
B-2000 Antwerp


Background:  Prevalences of childhood asthma and other atopic diseases are increasing worldwide, and so is the number of diagnostic methods and definitions used. We determined the occurrence of atopic diseases in Cuban children with a range of diagnostic approaches commonly used or proposed in epidemiological studies, and compared the different outcome measures.

Methods:  A total of 398 Cuban schoolchildren between 5 and 13 years of age were diagnosed by International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC) questionnaire, clinical examination, pre- and post-exercise spirometry, and skin prick testing. All results were considered separately, as well as jointly by using scores and definitions as described in the literature.

Results:  Using questionnaire-based approaches, 21–39% of the children were positive for asthma, 9–19% for atopic dermatitis, and 15–46% for rhinoconjunctivitis. With spirometry, 7% of the children had asthma. Definitions based on a combination of questionnaire and spirometry results yielded asthma rates of 5%. Of all children, 6% wheezed on clinical examination, and only one child showed clinical signs of atopic dermatitis. Eleven percent of the children had a positive skin prick test. In total, 254 children (64%) had an atopic disease as based on the ISAAC questionnaire, and 263 (66%) based on all approaches used.

Conclusion:  Diagnostic outcomes on atopic diseases vary considerably depending on definition and methodology. Our results clearly demonstrate the need for consensus on diagnosing asthma and other atopic diseases in epidemiological studies. Based on the most commonly used ISAAC questionnaire, our data suggest prevalences of atopic diseases in Cuban children that rival those found in some other Latin American countries and developed nations with the highest prevalences in the world.