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Animals In Print
The On-Line Newsletter

From 19 October 2002 Issue

Sled Dogs May Shed Clues on 'Ski Asthma'

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Sled dogs that run Alaska's famous Iditarod--the 1,100 mile race from Anchorage to Nome--may help scientists to better understand a lung condition called ski asthma, new study findings suggest.  
Human cold-weather athletes, especially skaters and cross-country skiers,
are more likely than those who don't work out intensely in chilly conditions to have inflammation in the peripheral parts of their lungs, as well as increased sensitivity of these airway regions. Some investigators suggest that this inflammation, which is similar to asthma, may be due to repeated penetration of insufficiently warmed and moistened air deep into the lungs.
"Because of the similarities between the activities of human cold-weather athletes and racing sled dogs, we hypothesized that racing sled dogs might also suffer from increased prevalence of airway disease," wrote lead author Dr. Michael S. Davis of Oklahoma State University in Stillwater and colleagues.
To investigate, the team of researchers examined the airways of 59 sled dogs 24 to 48 hours after they completed the long and arduous race. Their
findings are published in the September issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
The researchers found that 81% of the canines had "abnormal accumulations"
of mucus or cellular debris in their lower airways. This accumulation was classified as moderate to severe in nearly half of the animals, according to the report. There was no evidence that the lung damage could be due to bacterial infection, the authors note. Instead, they say, it was likely caused by cooling and drying out of peripheral airway passages, resulting in injury and inflammation.
"Our findings support the hypothesis that strenuous exercise in cold environments can lead to lower airway disease and suggest that racing sled dogs may be a useful naturally occurring animal model of the analogous human disease," the authors conclude.
 SOURCE: American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine
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