Studies in European children from a farming background have shown that these children have a reduced risk of asthma and atopic sensitization compared to their urban counterparts. It has been suggested that this might be due to exposure to high levels of endotoxin in the farming environment. The aim of this study was to compare indoor endotoxin concentrations in air and dust samples from randomly selected urban and rural dwellings. In the rural area, endotoxins were analysed in farmhouses and nonfarmhouses as well as housing characteristics, lifestyle factors and agricultural practices likely to influence air and dust endotoxin levels. Endotoxin levels were significantly higher in floor (6600 ± 6100 vs 3600 ± 5600 and 3800 ± 17 000 ng g−1; P < 0·001) and mattress dust (2900 ± 4100 vs 1100 ± 2400 and 800 ± 2600 ng g−1; P < 0·001) from farmhouses compared to other rural and urban homes. However, no difference was observed between endotoxin concentrations in the air of urban and rural houses, and airborne endotoxin levels did not correlate to dust levels. Lack of ventilation and direct entry into the house were correlated with an increase in dust endotoxin levels. These results confirm that dairy farming is associated with high exposure to endotoxins in indoor dust samples. No difference was observed between indoor airborne concentrations between urban and rural houses. These results suggest that measuring endotoxin in dust is the most relevant method to assess endotoxin exposure.
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