To determine whether poultry production methods impact respiratory health, and whether poultry farmers have more respiratory symptoms and lower lung function than comparison control groups. Cross sectional study. Provinces of Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba during the winters of 1997 to 1999. Three hundred three poultry workers, 241 grain farmers and 206 nonfarming control subjects were studied. Poultry workers were further classified according to the poultry housing type in which they worked, ie, workers who worked with poultry raised on the floor (floor-based operations), which included broiler/roaster, broiler/breeder and turkey operations (n=181), and workers who worked with poultry raised in a caged setting (cage-based operations), which included egg operations (n=122). Subjects completed a respiratory health questionnaire, which included questions on the poultry operation and work habits, and participated in lung function testing. Overall, this study indicated that poultry workers report greater prevalences of current and chronic respiratory symptoms than control populations, and that the type of production method (cage-based versus floor-based) appears to influence the prevalence of respiratory symptoms and lung function values. Workers from cage-based operations report greater prevalences of current cough and wheeze, as well as lower mean values for forced expiratory volume in the first second (FEV1), forced expiratory flow at 25% to 75% of vital capacity (FEF25-75) and FEV1/FVC than workers from floor-based facilities. Workers from cage-based facilities also reported greater prevalences of current and chronic cough and phlegm, as well as significantly lower FEF25-75 and FEV1/FVC values than nonfarming control subjects. Furthermore, grain farmers had lower FVC and FEV1 values than nonfarmers. The results suggest that the type of poultry production system (ie, floor- versus cage-based) appears to have an effect on the respiratory response of workers from these facilities. Further studies are required to understand the physiological mechanisms of respiratory dysfunction and the relationships concerning workplace exposure among poultry workers.
Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado