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Pneumonia occurs more often near livestock farms

Publication date: 21 June 2017
Modificationdate: 27 June 2017

People who live near poultry farms and goat farms suffer from pneumonia more often. In the area surveyed, every year about 1650 people per 100,000 residents get pneumonia. Over 200 of these pneumonia cases are associated with living in the vicinity of poultry farms and goat farms. This has been shown from additional studies in the large-scale survey ‘Livestock farming and the health of local residents’ (VGO) carried out by Utrecht University, Wageningen University and Research, NIVEL and RIVM. The new results confirm earlier findings from the VGO in 2016.

Poultry farms

People who live less than 1 km from a poultry farm get pneumonia more often. An average of 119 of the 200-plus additional pneumonia cases that are related to livestock farming can be ascribed to poultry farms. These additional pneumonia cases are probably caused by particulates and endotoxins. These small particles irritate the respiratory tract, possibly making people more susceptible to pneumonia.

Goat farms

People who live near goat farms also get pneumonia more often. This increase can be seen in all the years studied, from 2009 through to 2013. Of the 200-plus extra pneumonia cases that are associated with living in the vicinity of livestock farms, an average of 89 are related to living near goat farms. It is not yet clear what the cause of these cases of pneumonia is. It is however already clear that Q-fever does not explain the elevated risk since 2011. As far as is known, goat farms do not emit much particulate matter or endotoxins. Further investigations are required to find specific causes of this increase. Only then will it be possible to recommend measures that the businesses can take.

Confirmation of earlier results

In the new study, the results are based on other – often more extensive – analyses, which means that the researchers can be more confident of the correlations. Other results from the VGO include:

  • People who live near livestock farms often suffer less from asthma and allergies.
  • There are fewer people with COPD living near livestock farms, but they do have more severe symptoms and use more medication.
  • People with a lot of livestock farms around their place of residence can have somewhat reduced pulmonary function.
  • People throughout the area surveyed have reduced lung function if the ammonia concentration in the air is high. This is therefore independent of the distance from the livestock farm. Ammonia comes from manure.
  • Infections with the hepatitis E virus, resistant Clostridium difficile bacteria and ESBL-producing bacteria are not found more often among people who live near a livestock farm.

Survey

The VGO survey was started in 2013. It has used anonymised data from GPs of about 110,000 patients, about 14,000 questionnaires about respiratory complaints, and almost 2,500 people took part in a medical examination. This involved them completing questionnaires and having their blood, pulmonary function and stools tested. This is the first time worldwide that a study has been set up on such a large scale. The study was commissioned by the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport and the Ministry of Economic Affairs.

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