Barn personnel may be at risk of developing higher than average rates of respiratory symptoms due to poor air quality in horse barns, according to a new study by Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.
The study, which polled more than 80 New England horse barn workers, found that 50 percent of individuals working in barns complained of coughing, wheezing or other ailments in the last year, compared to 15 percent in the control group of 74 people.
“It has long been known that lower respiratory illness is common in horses, and this is typically attributed to the amount of dust in barns,” said Melissa Mazan, DVM, associate professor of clinical sciences at the Cummings School and the study’s lead author. “Our hope was to see whether this poor air quality affects horse owners, and it appears that it might.”
Further study is necessary to determine the causes of respiratory distress, according to Dr. Mazan. However, the study results may be similar among pig, dairy and chicken farmers who also work in environments high in organic dust. A 2001 study of European animal farmers found similar results.
Investigation of exposure to the dust, lung function and horse dander allergies in the barn-exposed group is needed to determine how best to protect the health of this group, Mazan added.
The study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health, was in collaboration with researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health, the University of Connecticut and the National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory at the Environmental Protection Agency’s Research Triangle Park.
The study was published in the June issue of Occupational Medicine.