Response of herb processing workers to work-related airborne allergens.

Ann Agric Environ Med 2001;8(2):275–283
A group of 51 herb processing workers employed in a big herb processing facility located in eastern Poland were examined by the skin and precipitin tests with, respectively, 4 and 17 extracts of microorganisms associated with organic dusts. Out of this number, 32 workers were examined by the skin test with 7 extracts of selected herbs processed in the facility. All the subjects were asked about the occurrence of work-related symptoms. 32 healthy office workers were examined with microbial extracts as a reference group. The herb processing workers showed a high proportion of early skin reactions (after 20 min) to the extract of Gram-negative bacterium Alcaligenes faecalis (41.2%), significantly higher compared to the reference group (p<0.01). At all time intervals (20 min, 8 hrs, 24 hrs), the workers responded with a high frequency to the extract of Bacillus subtilis (respectively 72.5%, 64.7%, and 15.7%), significantly greater compared to the reference group (respectively p<0.001, p<0.001, and p<0.05). No significant differences were found between the groups of herb processing workers and referents in skin response to the extracts of Streptomyces albus and Alternaria alternata and, except for the extract of Pantoea agglomerans, in the frequency of positive precipitin reactions to microbial antigens. In the skin test with herb extracts, the highest response among workers were caused by the extracts of chamomile flowers and nettle leaves which evoked 40-65% of positive skin reactions at all time intervals. 39 out of 51 interviewed herb processing workers (76.5%) reported the occurrence of work-related general, respiratory and skin symptoms. The positive skin reactions occurred more frequently among symptomatic workers which suggests that the specific immunologic response might be implicated in etiopathogenesis of work-related symptoms in examined workers. However, in most cases the differences did not attain a significance level which indicates that there is no direct relationship between a positive immunologic response and the appearance of symptoms caused by occupational exposure to herb dust, and that most probably a considerable part of these symptoms might be also due to non-specific immunologic and/or toxic mechanisms.