Effects of exposure to flax dust in Polish farmers: work-related symptoms and immunologic response to microbial antigens associated with dust.

Ann Agric Environ Med 2000;7(2):111–118
Medical examinations were performed in a group of 51 Polish farmers heavily exposed to flax dust during harvesting and scutching (threshing) and in a group of 50 healthy urban dwellers not exposed to organic dusts (controls). The examinations included: interview concerning the occurrence of respiratory disorders and work-related symptoms, physical examination, X-ray examination of chest, lung function tests, oxymetric examinations, determination of the concentration of cytokines (IL-1alpha IL-6, TNFalpha) in blood serum and allergological tests with microbial antigens associated with organic dust, comprising: skin prick test with 4 antigens, agar-gel precipitation test with 12 antigens and test for specific inhibition of leukocyte migration with 4 antigens. As many as 32 farmers (62.7%) reported the occurrence of work-related symptoms during harvesting, transporting and scutching of flax. The most common complaint was general weakness reported by 15 farmers (29.4%), followed by headache reported by 14 (27.5%), blocking of the nose - by 11 (21.6%), dry cough, shivering, and eyes itching - each by 10 (19.8%), chest tightness and hoarseness - each by 9 (17.6%). No control subjects reported these work-related symptoms. The mean spirometric values in the examined group of farmers were within a normal range and did not show a significant post-shift decline. In contrast, a significant post-shift decline of oxymetric values was found among flax farmers. The farmers showed a frequency of the positive early skin reactions to environmental allergens in the range of 0-19.6%, a frequency of positive precipitin reactions in a range of 0-56.9%, and frequency of positive reactions of leukocyte migration inhibition in a range of 7.8-21.6%. The members of the control group responded to the majority of allergens with a significantly lower frequency of positive results compared to the farmers. Elevated concentrations of IL-1alpha and IL-6, but not TNFalpha, were found in blood sera of flax farmers. In conclusion, farmers engaged in harvesting and scutching of flax represent a group of elevated professional risk because of high incidence of work-related symptoms and high frequency of allergic reactions to bacteria and fungi associated with organic dust.