Respiratory function and immunological status in cocoa and flour processing workers.

Respiratory function and immunological status in cocoa and flour processing workers.

Respiratory function and immunological status in cocoa and flour processing workers.

Abstract

Respiratory function and immunological status were studied in 40 cocoa and 53 flour processing workers employed as packers in a confectionery industry and in 65 unexposed control workers in the same industry. A high prevalence of chronic respiratory symptoms was recorded in exposed workers, varying from 5.0% to 30.0% in cocoa workers and from 5.7% to 28.3% in flour workers. Occupational asthma was diagnosed in 2 (5%) of the cocoa workers and in 3 (5.7%) of the flour workers. None of the control workers suffered from occupational asthma. The prevalence of almost all chronic respiratory symptoms was significantly greater in cocoa and flour workers than in control workers. There was also a high prevalence of acute symptoms that developed during the work shift, being highest for cough (cocoa: 57.5%; flour: 50.9%) and eye irritation (cocoa: 50.0%; flour: 54.7%). Significant across-shift reductions of ventilatory capacity were recorded in exposed workers, being largest for flow rates at 50% and the last 25% of the vital capacity on maximum expiratory flow-volume (MEFV) curves (FEF50, FEF75). The prevalence of positive skin tests for cocoa (60.2%) was significantly higher than the prevalence of positive skin tests for flour (25.8%) among the 93 exposed workers (p < 0.05). Control workers had significantly lower prevalences of positive skin tests to cocoa (4.6%) and flour (12.3%) than exposed workers (p < 0.01). Increased total serum IgE levels were found in 17.5% of cocoa and in 18.7% of flour workers; none of the control workers had increased IgE levels. Bronchoprovocation testing demonstrated significant decreases in lung function following inhalation of cocoa dust extract and flour dust in workers with respiratory symptoms and large across-shift reductions in lung function. Dust concentrations in the working environment were higher than those recommended by Croatian standards. These data suggest that workers employed in the processing of cocoa and flour may be at a high risk for the development of allergic sensitization and respiratory impairment.

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